for National Geographic News
Scientists announced plans today to put descriptions, pictures, video, and sounds of the world's estimated 1.8 million named species on the Internet for free.
The effort, called the Encyclopedia of Life, will standardize the presentation of "information about the plants and animals and microorganisms that share this planet with us," said James Edwards, the project's executive director.
The information will be accessible to scientists, policymakers, educators, and the general public, who have all clamored for the encyclopedia for years, Edwards said.
Peter Raven is president of the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, which is participating in the project. He said information about species today is widely scattered in scientific literature, museum collections, and databases.
"No one can really get it together in an edited form and know what's going on, and without that, there's no hope of using it for all the purposes where it could be applied," he said.
(Raven chairs the National Geographic Society's Committee for Research and Exploration. The National Geographic Society owns National Geographic News.)
Scientists hope to use the Web-based encyclopedia to spur conservation efforts and expedite the cataloging of recently discovered species.
The nonprofit project is expected to take about ten years and is being supported with 12.5 million U.S. dollars in grants from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
The encyclopedia will be assembled using aggregation, or "mash-up," technology, which draws on information from different sources and integrates it into a single experience, Edwards said.
(Read related story: "'Neogeography' Blends Blogs With Online Maps" [April 25, 2006].)
For the project, agents will collect all the information about a particular species from the Web and assemble it into a draft species page.
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