The Encyclopedia of Life (EOL) is an ambitious project to organize and make available via the Internet virtually all information about life present on Earth. At its heart lies a series of websites—one for each of the approximately 1.8 million known species—that provide the entry points to this vast array of knowledge.

The entry-point for each site is a species page suitable for the general public, but with several linked pages aimed at more specialized users. The sites are developing to be rich with text and images that are enticing to everyone, as well as providing deep links to specific data.

The EOL dynamically synthesizes biodiversity knowledge about all known species, including their taxonomy, geographic distribution, collections, genetics, evolutionary history, morphology, behavior, ecological relationships, and importance for human well being, and distributes this information through the Internet. It serves as a primary resource for a wide audience that includes scientists, natural resource managers, conservationists, teachers, and students around the world.

We believe that the EOL's encompassing scope and innovation will have a major global impact in facilitating biodiversity research, conservation, and education. The EOL staff is made up of scientists and non-scientists working from museums and research institutions around the world. We currently have 20 full time employees, but as this project grows, so will the EOL family. 

EOL uses the phrase “component groups” to refer to the five subprojects that together make up the Encyclopedia of Life, each located in a different place. These are the Species Pages Group (The Smithsonian), the Biodiversity Informatics Group (MBL Massachusetts), the Scanning and Digitization Group (The Biodiversity Heritage Library), the Education and Outreach Group (Harvard), and the Biodiversity Synthesis Group (The Field Museum).

The other four EOL components

The Biodiversity Informatics Group is creating the software to establish a single portal to reach information on all 1.8 million known species scattered in diverse websites all over the world. The infrastructure is seamlessly aggregating data from thousands of sites into species pages in the Encyclopedia using novel informatics tools to capture, organize, and reshape knowledge about biodiversity. The group collaborates with data providers, and then the information is indexed and recombined for expert and non-expert users alike using aggregation technology to bring together different data elements from remote sites.

The The Scanning and Digitization Group is led by the Biodiversity Heritage Library, a consortium of 10 natural history and botanical libraries, who are digitizing the published literature of biodiversity held in their respective collections and making it available as part of an open biodiversity commons. This digitized literature is of value to a wide range of scientists as well as many others. For example, individuals in developing countries and citizen scientists who lack affiliation with major research institutions will now be able to search, read, download, and print literature that was previously unavailable to them. Artists can use the detailed illustrations in many taxonomic works as motifs or design concepts in their work, whether on canvas, paper, or digitally. Educators guiding students in how to do biological research will have a wealth of examples to incorporate into lesson plans and assignments. The BHL Portal, which is linked to the EOL species pages, is available at http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/.

The overall goals of the Learning and Education Group are to insure widespread awareness of the EOL and to explore and promote new and exciting uses of this resource in diverse settings globally. To achieve this goal, the Learning and Education Group strives to make EOL relevant, usable and interesting to a broad range of international audiences. In addition to providing a useful resource about biodiversity for educators, citizen scientists, and others, the Learning and Education Group will encourage participation from interested parties by providing them tools to organize and serve their own observations, media, and data about the species they study.

The Species Pages Group works with the scientific community and other contributors to assemble and authenticate the content needed for the species pages. The information on the species pages is derived from a large number of different data providers around the globe. The group recruits diverse data providers and works with the scientific community to engage experts who act as “curators” to ensure information on the species pages is correct and current. In addition, the group is implementing a robust intellectual property regime that ensures open access to Encyclopedia materials. Finally, the team is working to develop specialized portals for different audiences.