OSB archive
OSB archive

Putting biodiversity on the web

Pete Wilton

It might seem like the days when non-scientists could make big contributions to science are long gone but in fact we could be entering a new age of 'citizen science'.

I've blogged before about a variety of Oxford projects [including Galaxy Zoo and ClimatePrediction.net] in which scientists are collaborating with members of the public through the web.

Now a new initiative, The Encyclopaedia of Life (EoL), aims to harness people power to record biodiversity around the globe.

Charles Godfray from Oxford's Department of Zoology, a member of EoL's Distinguished Advisory Board, writes that 'its goal is to create a webpage for every species known to man.'

'EoL is developing the tools that will allow anyone to contribute to the project... [including] the more casual naturalist who might record a new locality for an animal or plant, or might submit a particularly nice photograph or biological observation.'

He comments that taxonomy has historically been an individualistic science but that if EoL can bring diverse observations, classifications and views on relationships between species together it will deliver massive benefits. 

Charles concludes: 'EoL offers the prospect of empowering this community to carry out novel and important biodiversity studies, and then for their findings to be incorporated into the ever-growing body of knowledge about the natural world.'

So the days of amateurs collecting specimens that advance scientific knowledge could be making a comeback, it's just that these specimens will be captured on a digital camera instead of in a jam jar.