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3.1: The Encyclopedia of Life

Difficulty Level: At Grade Created by: CK-12
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The Encyclopedia of Life (EOL; http://www.eol.org/, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6NwfGA4cxJQ) is a free, online collaborative encyclopedia intended to document all of the 1.9+ million living species known to science. It is aggregated or compiled from existing scientific databases, and from contributions by experts and non-experts world-wide. Its goal is to build one “infinitely expandable” page for each species, including videos, sound, images, graphics, and text. As the discovery of new species is expected to continue (the current rate is about 20,000 new species identified per year), EOL will grow continuously. As taxonomy finds new ways to include species identified by molecular techniques, the rate of new species additions will increase - in particular with respect to the microbial world of (eu)bacteria, archaebacteria, and viruses. EOL went live on February 26, 2008 with 30,000 entries and currently has 752,993 entries.

Understanding Biodiversity is made available to the high school student through CK-12 and EOL's collaboration, primarily EOL's Learning + Education group, based in the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University (http://education.eol.org/). Understanding Biodiversity, is an expanding library of biodiversity information aimed at the high school biology classroom. Individual Understanding Biodiversity species pages will provide information for each species relevant to the high school biology curriculum: cell biology, genetics, evolution, ecology, and physiology. If you would like to submit a species page to Understanding Biodiversity, email your proposal for contributions to info@ck12.org.

The EOL has developed web-based tools and services that provide visitors enhanced capability to use EOL content for their own purposes and to contribute to the site and become part of a growing international community interested in biodiversity. Some of those tools and services are listed below.



NameLink is a service provided by EOL to quickly identify information associated with taxon names and to provide common species names. Students can submit a webpage address and have the taxon names within the page automatically identified and link up to projects which have information about those names. The common names appear within the webpage or on-line article.

NameLink can be used to identify additional information regarding many species. For example, insert the following URL into the URL insertion box on the NameLink page, and explore the information generated by this tool:

A Bioline article and abstract: http://www.mass.gov/dfwele/dfw/nhesp/species_info/mesa_list/mesa_list.htm.

Education LifeDesk


Register at http://www.edulifedesks.org/ to join the CK-12 Biology group.

A LifeDesk is an online environment that provides a collaborative space for creating, editing, and publishing web pages of species information. The goal of using a LifeDesk, in many cases, is to generate content to publish to the EOL, including text and images.

Try using a LifeDesk in a variety of ways. For example, individually or in a small group, research and write or upload images for different sections (e.g., Habitat, Conservation Status, Ecology, etc) of a species page. Alternatively, students can work on the same sections of different species pages and then compare their research findings about the different organisms. Because LifeDesks are on-line, students from different schools or in different locations can collaborate on projects.

When published to EOL, students or classes get credited for the contributions they make to this authentic project. However, there is no requirement to publish content, so LifeDesks can be easily used for class projects that are not visible to external audiences.

LifeDesks have a workflow system that allows groups to set assignments and alert each other when edits have been made or review of work is required. This allows students independence outside of the classroom to work on projects and communicate with their instructors.

Example of student created content published to EOL using an Education LifeDesk: http://eol.org/pages/790463/overview.

Field Guides


Field Guides pull selected content from EOL species pages into a format that is easier to view and use for particular projects. Rather than sorting through all 1.9 million species pages and all of the Table of Contents information, users will see information for just the organisms and information they select. Users are able to customize and edit the content in their field guide. Field guides can be made public and print options are available for use in a variety of contexts.

Try creating a field guide for the organisms found in your schoolyard or for the organisms discussed in another chapter of this FlexBook® resource that you are studying. See what information is found in EOL and what is missing. Is there anything you can contribute to EOL, such as an image or some class research information?

Adding Images and Video

You can contribute images of organisms to EOL through popular media sharing sites like Flickr or Wikimedia Commons http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Main_Page. The Encyclopedia of Life Images Flickr group already has over 60,000 images and short video clips, and our members are adding new ones daily.

Basic Flickr accounts are free and it’s easy to tag your images for EOL use. See the group page for instructions: http://www.flickr.com/groups/encyclopedia_of_life. EOL harvests the group pool every couple of days, so your images and videos will show up quickly on EOL pages and/or field guides. Uploading images to EOL supports learning of basic technology skills, proper citing of electronic resources and familiarization with scientific and common names for organisms, all while helping to build a global resource.

Short videos can also be uploaded to Flickr. For longer videos, please use EOL's group on Vimeo. http://vimeo.com/groups/encyclopediaoflife



A BioBlitz is a snapshot - a limited-time, limited-space species inventory of the organisms that live in an area. BioBlitzes let people get involved in the natural environment, increasing their awareness of and understanding for the environment. BioBlitzes are conducted to learn more about an area's biodiversity (what different life forms live here?), distribution (where do they live?), and abundance (how many of them are there?).

BioBlitzes can be a source of new information that can be shared with local conservation management groups as well as the EOL.

Students can organize BioBlitzes in their school yards or neighborhood parks. Partner with scientists from local conservation groups or universities to help with identification of species or try your best and see how many different species you can find. Put your event on the BioBlitz Worldwide map http://education.eol.org/bioblitz/worldwide, upload your images to EOL, and make a field guide of the species you and your classmates identified.

EOL Podcasts


The audio series One Species at a Time is a tribute to life on Earth http://education.eol.org/podcast/one-species-time. Each episode is a story, a mystery, a riddle, or an exploration of a different creature pulsing, fluttering, surging, respiring, and galloping on this planet. Biodiversity is center stage, from scurrying invasive beetles in Oregon to the threatened cedar trees of Lebanon to Ediacaran fauna from 580 million years ago. There are associated Extras and a Meet the Scientist section with each podcast.Some have associated educational materials. All podcasts are freely available and can be used in other projects.

Announcement of the Encyclopedia of Life


E.O. Wilson: Encyclopedia of Life


Interview with E.O. Wilson at Harvard University (2011),discussing what he loves about science.

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Date Created:
Feb 23, 2012
Last Modified:
Jan 30, 2016
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