Scientists Launch a Monumental Catalog of Species

Updated August 5, 2020 | Infoplease Staff
by Beth Rowen

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Most scientists agree that about 1.8 million species of plants, animals, and other forms of life exist on Earth. A group of prominent scientists and research organizations from all over the world announced in May 2007 the launch of a massive online database that will include information on each and every one of them. The site debuted in March 2008, with 30,000 pages mostly covering fish, plants, and amphibians.

An Enormous Project in Scope and Cost

Scientists working on the Encyclopedia of Life ( liken the scope and significance of the project to mapping the human genome. They expect the project will take about ten years to complete, at a cost of about $100 million. The Field Museum of Natural History, the Marine Biological Laboratory, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Biodiversity Heritage Library are collaborating on the project, as well as software experts and computer engineers.

The enormous database—the first of its kind—will eventually include written information on each species and pictures, video, sound, location maps, and other multimedia information whenever available. The encyclopedia will continue to evolve as new species are discovered. Organizers predict the database will eventually cover about 300 million pages.

One-Stop Shop for All

Scientists say the database will offer educators, researchers, students, and anyone interested in science a one-stop shop for information on every species that has populated the Earth. In addition, the Encyclopedia of Life will be available in several languages.

“The Encyclopedia of Life will provide valuable biodiversity and conservation information to anyone, anywhere, at any time,” said Dr. James Edwards the executive director of the Encyclopedia of Life. “Through collaboration, we all can increase our appreciation of the immense variety of life, the challenges to it, and ways to conserve biodiversity. The Encyclopedia of Life will ultimately make high-quality, well-organized information available on an unprecedented level.”

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has donated $10 million to the project and pledged another $10 million. The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation has given $2.5 million.

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