“Try to learn something about everything and everything about something.” –Thomas Henry Huxley
These are lofty words from one the world’s most impressive autodidacts. Thomas Huxley taught himself German and Greek by candlelight, endured years in crowded quarters with teenage midshipmen aboard the HMS Rattlesnake just to be able to learn about jellyfish, and taught himself comparative anatomy though countless hours behind a microscope. He may be most famously known as one the most important champions of evolution, but to me he is equally memorable for his firm belief in equal access to knowledge.
Were he alive today, I believe that Thomas Huxley would be a huge supporter of the Encyclopedia of Life (EOL). The EOL takes self-learning to the next level by providing unprecedented access to species information that is readable, comprehensive, and professionally curated. Since 2007, this open-access web portal has been cataloging the world’s biodiversity. Yes, you read correctly. EOL wants nothing less than to create informative pages for all of the world’s species. Last count, that was somewhere around 8.7 million species, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that number were much, much higher. In May 2012, the EOL hit one million species pages, which gives a sense of how successful the mission has been, and also how far they have to go.
I became involved with the EOL through a Herpetology course at Harvard. My goal was to create species pages for all of the cybotoids, a term used to describe the clade of trunk-ground anoles from Hispaniola. For my thesis I work extensively with this group, and so I thought that it would help me learn the literature for the clade and provide an important resource for anyone interested in these lizards. It quickly became obvious that eight species pages was biting off more than I could chew for a term project. There were phylogenetic issues to resolve and much literature to mine. So I teamed up with Juanita Hopwood, an undergraduate at Harvard who accompanied me on a expedition in 2010 to study the cybotoids in the Dominican Republic. Together we conducted the research and crafted the species pages.
Since then, we have been crafting pages and working extensively with our editor, Luke Mahler. Luke, along with Rosario Castañeda, who is a 2012 Rubenstein Fellow for the EOL, have been working extensively with the EOL and the Anoline Lizard Specialist Group (ALSG), a group dedicated to assessing risks for Anolis species through the IUCN.
Our pages for Anolis longitibialis and A. marcanoi have been up and running for some time. Today I am happy to announce that the EOL has launched four new pages for this group. Perhaps the most important is Anolis cybotes, which many people know and recognize. This species is widespread across Hispaniola, but has also recently invaded Suriname and Florida. There is actually a comparatively large literature for this species and, all said and done, this page took the most time to complete, as we summarized decades of interesting research. Perhaps less well known, but equally fascinating, is Anolis shrevei, a species found in the upland pine forests of the Cordillera Central. I’ve worked extensively with this taxon for my thesis. Their persistence in a cold environment despite their tropical ancestry and has been a source of constant fascination for me on the Anole Annals (1, 2, 3, 4).
Also now available is our page for Anolis strahmi, a poorly understood species found in the Sierra de Baoruco. It turns out that this species fascinated Albert Schwartz, as well, who in 1979 made some of the first observations of behavioral thermoregulation in this clade by studying the natural history of A. strahmi. Finally, the page for Anolis haetianus, a little-studied taxon restricted to the Tiburon Peninsula in western Haiti, is also available. This cybotoid likely represents a morphological variant of A. cybotes, an issue I discuss on its page. I reasoned that folks interested in this taxon would be better served to read about it on its own page, where I discuss the issue of its species status, rather than to further crowd the A. cybotes page, where readers would have to mill through a fair bit of unrelated information to get the text of interest.
Although the pages for Anolis armouri and A. whitemani are still under construction, the publication of these four pages feels like a large leap forward in what turned out to be a labor of love. My hope is that they will contribute to the EOL’s mission and Thomas Huxley’s goal to help people “learn something about everything.”