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A visually stunning tree of life is available online

OneZoom is an interactive website, developed by a research team led by the University of Oxford and Imperial College London (ICL), that maps the evolutionary connections between 2.2 million living species, the closest thing until now to a single view of all the known plant and animal species. The digital tree of life also includes images of over 85,000 species and, where known, their vulnerability to extinction.

“By developing new algorithms for visualization and data processing, and combining them with ‘big data’ gathered from multiple sources, we’ve created something beautiful,” said lead author Dr. Yan Wong, an evolutionary biologist from the Big Data Institute at the University of Oxford.

“It allows people to find their favorite living things, be they golden moles or giant sequoias, and see how evolutionary history connects them together to create a giant tree of all life on Earth.”

“We have worked hard to make the tree easy to explore for everyone, and we also hope to send a powerful message: that much of our biodiversity is under threat,” added co-author Dr. James Rosindell, a biodiversity researcher at ICL.

The leaves representing each species on the tree of life are color-coded according to their risk of extinction. The green ones are not threatened, the red ones are, and the black ones are already extinct. However, most of the leaves are grey, meaning they have not yet been evaluated or that experts do not have sufficient data to assess their extinction risk.

The OneZoom explorer can be used on laptops and computers, as well as on tablets and smartphones with touchscreens. The developers made the software free to download and use by educational organizations such as schools, museums, and zoos.

Moreover, the authors have also set up a OneZoom charity, making each species available for “adoption.” Over 800 leaves have already been sponsored by individuals and organizations.

The interactive tree of life also contains data regarding the popularity of each species, based on how often the Wikipedia page about the species is viewed.

“Perhaps unsurprisingly, humans come out on top, but it has swapped places a few times with the second most popular: the grey wolf – the ‘species’ that includes all domestic dogs,” said Dr. Wong. Among the plants, cannabis came first, followed by cabbage, potatoes, and coconuts.

“With OneZoom, we hope to give people a completely new way to appreciate evolutionary history and the vastness of life on Earth in all its beauty,” Dr. Rosindell concluded.

The website is presented in a paper published in the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution.

Image Credit: OneZoom

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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