Encyclopedia of Life starts online—at times

The project to create an online Encyclopedia of Life with a Web page for every species has taken its first, baby steps.

The free-access, scientifically vetted encyclopedia, headquartered at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., opened its first portal to preliminary Web pages (www.eol.org) Feb. 26. Some 11 million hits in the first few hours swamped the site. Even days afterward, users had to keep trying for a first look.

Viewers who persist will see basic information on all 30,000 of the world’s fish species. The scientific nomenclature, ranges, descriptions, and often, pictures, come from FishBase, a database created and maintained by scientists. Planners of the encyclopedia say that devising such browser-friendly portals to scientists’ data is what will make the new site reliable, and possible (SN: 2/2/08, p. 72).

The new site also features 25 demonstration pages, examples of what is planned for the full-grown encyclopedia. On these pages viewers can vary the amount of detail displayed, see photos of cacao flowers, learn which World War II Japanese plane was named for the peregrine falcon, and click through to scientific journal citations about the genetics of extremely elongated tomatoes.

Susan Milius is the life sciences writer, covering organismal biology and evolution, and has a special passion for plants, fungi and invertebrates. She studied biology and English literature.

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