Diversity of Life Web Index

Links and Information to Explore Biodiversity

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Who can imagine a world devoid of a miriad strange and beautiful life forms? Who would want to? The thousands of species on earth are what make this planet stand out from any other place we know of in the universe. They create the conditions which enable us humans to survive, and their mere existance enriches our lives in ways too numerous to count.

Some groups of species have, fairly or not, gotten a bad reputation: bacteria, creepy-crawlies of all denominations, all things venomous and ferocious, and so on. (And who can't think of at least one or two vermin they'd rather not run into in the dark?) But even folks with an aversion to some particular critter can still appreciate the sheer diversity of life on earth. It is truly a wonder!

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In this page, I try to bring together in one place the considerable resources available on the web for exploring the diversity of life. Some of this information will be meaningful only to the scientist (or to someone with a term paper due about some obscure group of species!). But at least some of these links should appeal to anyone with a healthy curiousity.

I obviously didn't read every bit of all the web pages linked in this site! They were all briefly screened for content, and are all working as of July, 1997. I try to give a little descriptive information about the linked site when ever possible. A star () next to a link just means I think it's a really neat site-- it's a totally subjective rating system!

Sites were chosen to exemplify biological diversity. In particular, I selected sites with taxonomic information, phylogenetic information, and/or images. I did NOT choose sites based on the volume or quality of overall biological information outside of taxonomy and phylogenetics.

I avoided pages whose focus is not on the biology or diversity of a group of species. Specifically, I left out pages which are primarily about fishing, aquaria, zoos, herbaria or botanical gardens, pets, medicine, molecular or cellular biology, genetics, physiology, microscopy or other scientific technologies, books or CDs for sale, university departments/research/faculty, photography, societies/organizations, bulletin boards/newsletters/newsgroups/listserves, edible species, agriculture, etc. I also omitted pages which are solely about local or regional biodiversity. The common focus of all the pages linked below is the diversity, classification, and/or general appreciation of one or more groups of organisms. One final note. I did not include a section about viruses for two reasons: 1) Many scientists do not consider them true living things and 2) The focus of most virus information is likely to be medical or agricultural.

I organized the links for each Kingdom into various categories based on what kind of sites I found on the web. These categories are not exactly the same from one Kingdom to the next because very different kinds of websites exist for, say, bacteria and plants. However, I try to be as consistant as possible in the way in which links are presented and reviewed. In order to make each category as complete as possible, some sites are cross-listed under several categories, both within and across Kingdoms. However, if you are looking for particular information, I recommed perusing at least the All Species category, as well as the "general information" category under the Kingdom of interest, rather than looking only under a more narrow sub-topic.

If you know of a page that I should add, drop me a line. I'd also appreciate a note if a linked page has moved or died; or if you notice any errors in the information on this page. Thanks.

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Since the purpose of this page is to be a biological web directory, I have also taken every effort to ensure that the sites I link to on this page, including web rings, are appropriate for children and generally educational in nature. If you encounter any adult material on a website to which I have a link, please notify me at the above e-mail address. Thank you.

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Jump to a brief explanation of taxonomy.

For those folks who aren't familiar with the lingo, here are a few quick and dirty definitions. DISCLAIMER: These definitions are provided as general background information. For more precise information, I suggest consulting a textbook or library.

cladistics or phylogenetic systematics: the science of classifying organisims strictly on their evolutionary relatedness. The functional grouping unit is a "clade," a group of organisisms with a common ancestor. For more information on cladistics, try Introduction to Cladistics or Journey into Phylogenetic Systematics.

eukaryote: an organism whose cells contain nuclei. All organisms except the bacteria are eukaryotes.

morphology: having to do with shape. In reference to organisims, it has to do with their physicial (but not molecular or behavioral) characteristics, including microscopic traits.

organism: any individual living thing. It can refer to a bacterium, a fern, a mushroom, a tick, a human-anything alive.

phylogenetics: the study of how organisms are related to one another. Using the fossil record together with characteristics of living species such as morphology, behavior, and molecular analysis of proteins and DNA, scientists make a "best guess" about how closely various species are related. They try to determine how long ago two or more species had a common ancestor. A "phylogeny" is a sort of family tree, showing how one group of species gave rise to other groups. For more information about phylogenetics, check out The Phylogeny of Life.

prokaryote: an organism whose cells do not contain nuclei. Only the bacteria are prokaryotes.

species: Know one really knows how to define this term! Here's one definition that I committed to memory for an undergraduate class, so I guess it's as good as any other: "A group of actually or potentially interbreeding organisisms reproductively isolated from other such groups." In English, this means that members of a species can mate, but they can't or won't mate with members of another species. (And if they do, the result is a hybrid, which is supposed to have problems like sterility--this isn't always the case, especially in plants.) For most purposes, the species is the smallest unit of taxonomic classification.

taxonomy: the traditional science and methodology of classifying organisisms based on physical similarities. Taxonomy is by far the most common method of organizing and classifying organisisms, but is criticized for not reflecting patterns of evolutionary relatedness. (A newer field, cladistics, seeks to address this problem.) Taxonomists classify all organisms into a hierarcy, and give them standardized Latin names. There are seven main levels of classification in the hierarchy (from most to least inclusive):

  • Kingdom
  • Phylum (or Division for algae, fungi, and plants)
  • Class
  • Order
  • Family
  • Genus
  • Species
Each level, called a taxon (plural = taxa,) includes all those below it. A given organism belongs to one species, which belongs to one genus, which belongs to one family, and so on. Conversely, a genus can contain one or many species, a family can contain one or many genera, an order can contain one or many families, etc. Scientists often use prefixes like "super-," "sub-," and "infra-" in front of a main taxonomic level, thereby increasing the total number of levels.

Within a particular group of organisims, scientists usually try to give the same "Latinized" ending to the names of all groups at the same taxonomic level. For example, all the Divisions of plants end in "-phyta," and Families of animals usually end in "-idae." This can be a helpful clue as to which taxonomic level you are dealing with. One final tidbit. When referring to a particular species, it is correct to give both genus and species together. The genus is capitalized, but the species is not. Both should be italicized or underlined. As an example, here is the taxonomic classification for the grey wolf:

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Sub-phylum: Vertebrata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Carnivora
  • Family: Canidae
  • Genus: Canis
  • Species: Canis lupus
For more introductory information about taxonomy, try Taxonomy or Taxonomic Hierarchy.

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  • The Tree of Life
    A truly phenomenal resource! A an extensive series of pages tracks every branch and twig of the family tree of life. Good discussion of biology for most taxa. Simple to navigate, some nice images. A must see! The link above connects to the "Root" page. Click here for the Express Page where you can search or jump to commonly accessed organisms. Or try the Crown Eukaryotes page, the starting place for protists, fungi, plants, and animals.
  • Tree Base, "A Database of Phylogenetic Knowledge"
    "TreeBASE is a pilot project sponsored by the NSF, Harvard University Herbaria, and the University of California, Davis to establish a relational database of phylogenetic information." Looks like a good start, but still in the testing phase. Almost certainly not as complete as the Tree of Life.
  • Plant and Animal Phylogeny Exercise
    Designed for a university biology course, this site offers an overview of phylogeny, taxonomy, and the five kingdoms, plus super interactive phylogenetic diagrams for the plants and animals. Includes links to a gopher menu with photos of many taxa.
  • Natural Perspective
    I just love this site! Beautiful images, nice layout, and interesting, plain-language explanations of higher-level eukaryotic taxa. The only drawback is that there is little or no information available for a few taxa- - I hope they keep adding to this excellent site.
  • The Phylogeny of Life
    This site is great! It is part of a virtual museaum from the University of California, Berkely. It is a bit confusing to navigate at first, but nevertheless provides LOTS of information and some nice images. Within most taxa, you can click to learn more about a group's fossil record, life history and ecology, systematics, or morphology. Includes just about all organisisms. Help files, a glossary, and a navigating tool called Web Lift are available.
  • Integrated Taxonomic Information System
    Here's a quote from the intro page:"The Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS) is a database that offers quality taxonomic information of flora and fauna from both aquatic and terrestrial habitats. ITIS is the product of a partnership of Federal agencies collaborating with systematists in the Federal, state, and private sectors to provide scientifically credible taxonomic information. Geographic coverage initially will emphasize North American taxa." This site is undergoing a testing phase. I've encountered periods when the server was down, and information is not available for some common species. But ITIS is equipped with powerful tools that allow you to do things like get a scientific name from a common name (and vice versa); find out the taxonomic classification of a species; find out the taxonomic rank of a Latin name; generate reports; download data; and more. Definately worth checking if you need taxonomic information.
  • A Survey of the Plant Kingdoms
    Nice site with excellent information about all Kingdoms except Animalia. Lots of detailied taxonomy, phylogenetic diagrams, illustrations, and images available. Based on the Whittaker Five Kingdom Classification System (1978).
  • Taxonomy of Life
    Complete taxonomy of Kingdoms and Phyla (Divisions). Lots more information for lower-level taxa within Anamalia, especially for the vertebrates. They seem to be experiencing some technical difficulty with their server...
  • Digital Learning Center for Microbial Ecology
    Neat-o images and information about baceria and protists. Be sure to stop by the Microbe Zoo. With areas like Dirtland, Space Adventure, and Water World, this virtual microbe zoo is great for kids and adults!
  • The Parasitology Images List
    "Here is a collection of images of medically important parasites. The majority of the images show diagnostic stages of the parasite concerned, in the most commonly encountered clinical specimen. Each has the name and stage of the parasite shown, along with an approximate scale bar for comparison." Separate catalogs for protozoa, nematodes, and arthropods.
  • University of Guelph Image Library
    This anonymous FTP server has an enormous library of quality images, nicely arranged taxonomically. I was very tempted to give this site a star, but didn't because the server is often busy, and I got many FTP error messages.
  • The Virtual Foliage Homepage
    This site is put up by the Botany Department of the University of Wisconsin. It is the gateway to an absolutely HUGE collection of photos arranged in various directories on a gopher server. Includes photos of cyanobacteria, protists, fungi, and all the plant Divisions, plus photos and diagrams to illustrate life cycles, morphology, and physiology. Various sub-directories of this gopher will be cross-listed under all the Kingdoms except Animalia.
  • Systematics and Taxonomy
    A jumping off point for biodiversity web searches provided by the Biodiversity and Ecosystem NEtwork (BENE).
  • Taxonomic Starting Points
    Another starting place for taxonomic web searches-this one brought to you by the National Biological Survey (Department of the Interior).
    The opening page of this site is a univeristy course syllabus. Each topic is hypertext to an overview of that lecture. Topics include: characteristics of life, cell cycle, genetics, evolution, ecology, and an overview of each Kingdom.
  • An On-Line Biology Book
    A huge storehouse of information, covering everything from atoms to evolution. Some diagrams. Features a truly extensive glossary.
  • MendelWeb Glossary
    "This is a glossary of terms that appear in Mendel's paper and other areas of MendelWeb. It is not meant to be exhaustive, and is aimed primarily at students in secondary and undergraduate schools." Although the focus is obviously on genetics, there are some terms included which relate to organismal biology. From the Gregor Mendel Institute in Rome, whose site is also available in Italian.
  • Endangered Species Homepage
    From the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. General information about the endangered species program, plus status and some biology and/or images for each endangered or threatened species.
  • Endangered Species
    From the Royal British Columbia Museum. Lots of biological information about the species on this "red list," and the taxonomic groups they belong to. Available in French.
  • Taiwan Endemic Species Research Institute
    Very attractive site. Biological information available about fungi, plants, and animals.
  • EARTHDANCE: Living Systems in Evolution
    Apparantly a book by Elisabet Sahtouris, this is an interesting all-text site about evolution.

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