"Encyclopedia of Life" to Catalog All Species on Earth

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Scientists will then review, edit, and authenticate the information. A species expert will sign each page.

"We think providing a place where you get a known quantity—where you know that what you're looking for or [what] you're getting relates to organisms and is also authoritative information—will be a big boon for tons of people," Edwards said.

For example, the encyclopedia will provide information on species names, conservation status, and where the organisms currently reside.

Project participants are particularly excited about the potential for the encyclopedia to aid the conservation of known species.

Raven said the collected, organized species information can "point the way to solid information about what they are and where they are and, by doing that, help indicate the most effective steps that can be taken to deal with them in any way or conserve them."

Since the encyclopedia will be Web-based, Edwards added, the species information will be able to be updated regularly, which will allow people to see how species respond to changes over time, like whether populations are expanding or decreasing.

The encyclopedia will also help focus efforts to discover and catalog the estimated ten million species—not counting bacteria—that await scientific recognition.

Verifying that a species is indeed unknown and distinct from its relatives is the most arduous task of describing a new species, Edwards noted, especially for people in developing countries who lack access to libraries.

"Digitizing this information, making it freely available on the Web, will really enable these scientists in developing countries to be able to make descriptions of new species," he said.

"And we know it's the developing world—it's in the tropical parts of the world—that most of the still-to-be-discovered species probably reside."

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