Visualizing a Vast World
U-Idaho professor helps develop website that brings the tree of life to life
By Tara Roberts
Earth is home to more than 2 million known species, interconnected across millions of years of evolution.
To map relationships among species, biologists build large and elaborate phylogenies, sections of the tree of life. But how can millions of connections among millions of creatures be visualized in any accessible way?
OneZoom, a new website, turns a simple illustration of the tree of life into an interactive interface that anyone can explore by zooming deeper into the branches to reveal further detail. The tree’s branches represent evolutionary connections through time, while its leaves show identified modern species. The three trees now posted on the site represent mammals, birds and amphibians.
“If you look at a document, you’re seeing a one-dimensional story,” OneZoom creator James Rosindell says. “What OneZoom gives you is the ability to explore interactively.”