Scientists are working on a $100 million project called "Encyclopedia of Life". This will be an Internet-based encyclopedia that lists all known plants and animal species. James Edwards, the executive director of the project, says each specie will get an entry in the encyclopedia. At the moment 1.8 million species are known but scientists estimate the total number of species on Earth could range from 5 million to 100 million.
The free Encyclopedia would focus mainly on animals, plants and fungi with microbes to follow, blending text, photographs, maps and videos in a common format for each. Expansion of the Internet in recent years made the multi-media project possible. Demonstration pages include entries about polar bears, rice, death cap mushrooms and a "yeti crab" with hairy claws recently found in the South Pacific.
"This is about giving access to information to everyone," said Jesse Ausubel, chairman of the project who works at the Rockefeller University in New York City.
The Encyclopedia would draw on existing databases such as for mammals, fishes, birds, amphibians and plants. English would be used at the start with translations to other languages.
Edwards said the project would give an overview of life on earth via what he termed a "macroscope"--the opposite of a microscope through which scientists usually peer.
The encyclopedia, to be run by a team of about 25 to 35 people, could help chart threats to species from pollution, habitat destruction and global warming.