DATABASE: Taxonomists' Companion

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Science  09 Nov 2001:
Vol. 294, Issue 5545, pp. 1247
DOI: 10.1126/science.294.5545.1247c

Though it's only one-tenth complete, the World Biodiversity Database already boasts entries for some 200,000 species of plants, fungi, animals, bacteria, and protists. Compiled by the Amsterdam-based Expert Center for Taxonomic Identification, the database draws from 39 taxonomic surveys and projects on groups such as marine mammals, sea cucumbers, and the orchids of New Guinea.

Look up sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus), for instance, and you get a page with drawings of the animal and details on its distribution (tropics to ice pack), appearance (can grow to 18 meters), classification, and behavior (may dive to 3200 meters in pursuit of squid). Entries also link to protein and DNA databases. Besides searching by scientific or common name, you can browse the tree of life to track down interesting creatures. Marine organisms predominate, but keep checking back—according to its creators, the database will eventually include all 1.7 million known organisms on Earth.

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