One of the grand challenges in biology is discovery of the detailed pattern of relatedness among life forms, reflecting the process of lineage diversification which formed the magnificent evolutionary tree of life. Phylogenetic trees have become the central framework for a wide range of key questions in biology, from searching for evolutionary patterns in comparative data, to processes of natural selection, genetic change, and evolutionary rules that apply across divergent forms of life. However, software capable of smoothly browsing and visualizing large tree structures, exploring large sets of alternative trees, and interfacing with the rapidly growing databases in biodiversity, remain a challenge. This project builds an experienced team of phylogenetic biologists, computational visualization experts from academia and industry, and educators to develop new tools for research and education.

A diverse group of committed participants from academia and industry is intensely interested in the current project, and has already held several meetings funded by the Biodiversity Synthesis Center of the Encyclopedia of Life project, at the Field Museum.

Synthesis Meetings

Software Development


Phylografter is a web application for evolutionary biologists to use in not only in visualizing and annotating phylogenetic trees, but to 'graft' published trees together to create a context for collaboration among biologists. It is currently being implemented, the source can be found here :

VoLE: Viewer of Life in EOL

VoLE uses EOL APIs to create a browseable and searchable treemap of Encyclopedia of Life pages. The space-filling treemap layout is created using the Javascript Infovis Toolkit and leaf nodes can display images or data from the EOL.

iPlant Big Tree Viewer

As part of the iPlant Tree of Life (iPToL) project, our goal was to explore a way to draw big trees and still have the ability to pan and zoom at interactive speeds, in the web browser. The viewer uses java and GWT to incrementally load nodes as they are needed, as the user browses the tree. This keeps client-side processing to a minimum while allowing the user to view a tree of, in principle, any size.