What IS the Tree of Life?
The tree of life links all biodiversity through a shared evolutionary history. This project will produce the first online, comprehensive first-draft tree of all 1.8 million named species, accessible to both the public and scientific communities. Assembly of the tree will incorporate previously-published results, with strong collaborations between computational and empirical biologists to develop, test and improve methods of data synthesis. This initial tree of life will not be static; instead, we will develop tools for scientists to update and revise the tree as new data come in. Early release of the tree and tools will motivate data sharing and facilitate ongoing synthesis of knowledge.
Biological research of all kinds, including studies of ecological health, environmental change, and human disease, increasingly depends on knowing how species are related to each other. Yet there is no single resource that unites knowledge of the tree of life. Instead, only small parts of the tree are individually available, generally as printed figures in journal articles. This project will provide the global community of scientists who study the tree of life with a means to share and combine their results, and will enable large-scale studies of Earth’s biodiversity. It will also create a resource where students, educators and citizens can go to explore and learn about life’s evolutionary history.