October 26, 2012
Fractal Used To Visualize An Interactive Tree Of Life
|A new website called OneZoom lets you explore all of the evolutionary tree of life, zooming in and out like you would use an online map. OneZoom iss built on a fractal pattern that repeats the same branching form, no matter how expanded or collapsed your view.|
With OneZoom, exploring the evolutionary tree of life is now as easy as navigating an online map, thanks to a new interactive website. The developers at OneZoom are committed to heightening awareness about the diversity of life on earth, its evolutionary history and the threats of extinction. The website allows you to explore the tree of life in a completely new way: it's like a map, everything is on one page, all you have to do is zoom in and out. OneZoom also provides free, open source, data visualisation tools for science and education, currently focusing on the tree of life.
The project was somewhat of a happy accident, Rosindell said in an interview. Fascinated by fractals, the evolutionary biologist wanted to use a fractal zooming interface to display large and complex data sets, but it took a collaboration with Harmon to decide on the tree of life as his subject.
A tree has long been used to describe for the history of life as it starts with a clearly defined beginning, offering both a timeline and a vast canopy of interconnected information. In a tree of life, the trunk generally represents the first life on Earth, and then it splits into boughs and branches for different kingdoms, like plants and animals. Those split into smaller branches, say for fish, mammals, birds and so on; and those break down into smaller and smaller twigs, representing families and groups, and finally leaves representing species.
However when you try putting all of that information on a single tree, and it’s impossible, Rosindell said. It wouldn’t fit on a single page, neither a plant-derived one nor a digital one. To overcome this, Rosidell implemented a fractal view.
The data comes from the open Tree of Life Project, a collaboration among biologists and other scientists around the world. It contains decades’ worth of work in phylogeny, evolutionary history of and relationships among groups of organisms. The project is about a year away from a complete tree of all life, Rosindell said. He wanted a system in place that could visualize it as soon as it’s ready.
Launched on October 16th apaper describing Rosindell's and Harmon's methods will be published in the "Cool Tools" series of the open access journal PLOS Biology.
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Tags: Benoit Mandelbrot, biology, fractals, graphic design, interactive, James Rosindell, OneZoom, tree of life
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