The Encyclopedia of Life Expands and Adds Features

by Matt Ball on September 5, 2011

The Encyclopedia of Life (www.eol.org), the online directory of species information, has just come out with a new version that adds 20 times more pages since the site launched in August 2009, and improves the navigation. There are now 700,000 of the 1.9 million known species represented, with the aim to build one “infinitely expandable” page for each species, including video, sound, images, graphics, and text. The user experience has also been enhanced to allow individuals to pull together their own collections and to upload photos, videos and sounds to share with others.

Bob Corrigan, EOL director of product management, describes the strategy of linking all of this online information together to that of creating an e-biosphere. Not only does the networked collection approach give EOL information, but users that use EOL to search also have the ability to connect back out to partner institutions for more detailed and scholarly resources.

The mapping component of EOL (shown above for panda range) is a link to the Global Biodiveristy Information Facility (GBIF), which collects incident sitings of species for a comprehensive occurrence map. The map widget was built by Vizzuality from Spain, and gives a sense of how EOL integrates with other providers.

There is now a global community of 180 different content providers, and more than 700 curators that review content and approve it for display. While there are now 700,000 species represented on the site, there are also 1 million species pages that are waiting for more detail and curation by providers.

The new EOL site is fully internationalized with content in English, Arabic, and Spanish. Member institutions include the Atlas of Living Australia, the Biodiversity Heritage Library, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, la Comisión Nacional para el Conocimiento y Uso de la Biodiversidad (CONABIO), the Field Museum of Natural History, Harvard University, Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad de Costa Rica (INBio), the Marine Biological Laboratory, the Missouri Botanical Garden, NCB Naturalis -  the Netherlands Centre for Biodiversity, the New Library of Alexandria, the Smithsonian Institution and the South African National Biodiversity Institution (SANBI).

Corrigan stated that there’s a growing relationship with the Map of Life program, which has range maps of where you can expect to find different species. Corrigan also expects mapping functionality to grow over time because people want to ask geospatial questions, such as what species they can expect to see in a specific area or what plants are blooming, and what birds are migrating through an area at a specific time.

When asked about the issue of accelerated global change, Corrigan acknowledged that it’s not enough to show what a range is today, it’s important to show a range that is changing. He fully expects that the site will do a time series down the road in order to visualize estimated range based on climatic data.

The EOL site is about putting life into context, seeing connections and providing the ability to interact with the data. Version 2 of the site improves the connection to educators to engage broader audiences, and snowball understanding. The site makes teaching of biodiversity more accessible, and staying on top of change is a large part of the mission.

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