EOL Wishes For Research

Do you have a longstanding research question, involving a large number of taxa? Do you suspect the sum of human knowledge contains enough information to provide the answer ? Maybe you’ve never tackled it because it's just way too much work to extract it from its myriad locations? Can EOL help? Tell us the question you want to ask. Tell us the kinds of data you would need. Let us help get you access to the data that will allow you to answer the big questions.

Don’t be shy. The EOL community has several resources available that we could leverage.

      We have aggregated content over a wide range of taxa, which might contain what you need.

      It’s digitized and queryable, so what you need could potentially be extracted.

      Our collection is owned and managed by a large global community of knowledgeable people. If we tell our partners, curators, allied projects and users what you’re trying to do, they might just be able to help.

How much content? There are over 1.2 million images on EOL, and text associated with over 900,000 taxa (see the text and media content summary and list of content partners to get an idea how the content types are distributed). Possibly, the information you need is somewhere in our 1,100,000 populated taxon pages, or the 106,000 volumes in the Biodiversity Heritage Library. Granted, it might take a lot of work to extract it.  That work might require natural language processing or computer vision expertise or crowd-sourcing.  Maybe EOL does not yet have the full set of data you need, but if we have some, we could combine it with yet untapped sources to help you answer your question.  Please articulate your data needs. What kind of data are you looking for? What EOL content would contain it? For instance:

I wish I could answer this question: Using:
What are the most important physical or behavioral traits associated with vulnerability to climate change in the organisms already assessed by IUCN, and can these results be extended to organisms that have not yet been assessed? Text from brief summaries, behavior, and other description sections, to obtain this data: coded traits as described by fws.gov
Is blue coloration more likely to occur in high-altitude or shallow depth plant and animal species; Is use of red pigment in flowers and berries conserved or derived across many clades of plants? Images, morphological descriptions, and habitat information from many EOL partners and BHL articles, to obtain this data: color of organism, altitude and depth information 
What is the distribution of taxonomic controversy/agreement across the branches of the Tree of Life? Multiple classifications harvested by EOL, to obtain this data: the degree of coverage and congruence among hierarchies and nomenclatures

Whatever you wish you could do, regardless of whether you know how that ability could be provided, we would like you to tell us. Please complete this brief Nomination Form by September 15, and join the EOL Research Ideas community to participate in the discussion of nominated Wishes. Wishes will be publicly posted and available for community discussion. We reserve the right not to post Wishes that are clearly out of scope. A week after the nomination deadline, voting will open for one week to select a shortlist of up to ten Wishes to inform our development priorities and ignite our community in the coming year. All EOL Curators (including Assistant Curators) will be eligible to vote.  If your Wish is selected for the shortlist, you will be offered your choice of fabulous prizes.  Winners will be publicly identified after the shortlist is published, but you are welcome to identify yourself as soon as your Wish is posted.

Eligibility and restrictions:

      You must have an EOL account.

      Your Wish must be aimed at a specific research question; it will have more credibility if you are in a position to work on the research question yourself.

      EOL or BHL should provide some advantage over other available sources of data; e.g., due to their comprehensive taxon coverage or exposure of content that is not elsewhere available in machine-readable format.

      EOL staff are welcome to participate but are not eligible for prizes.


1.       I have a wish I want to nominate but I don’t have an EOL account. What do I do? No problem. Get one. It’s free and easy.

2.       I have a wish I want to nominate but I’m retired/I’m an undergraduate student/I’m a citizen scientist/I don’t have an active research program. What do I do? Anyone with a strong interest in science can articulate a great research question. You are free to submit the nomination, but it will be strengthened if someone shows an interest in pursuing the research question you suggest.  Join the EOL Research Ideas community and tell your colleagues about it. If you are an EOL Curator or Assistant Curator, you may vote for your nomination.

3.       My Wish is really interesting and useful but I don’t know if it’s possible. Can I submit it? Absolutely. It is not up to you to provide a solution; that’s our responsibility.

4.       My Wish is really interesting and useful but it doesn’t apply to my current research. What do I do? See question 2.

5.       My Wish is really interesting and useful but it doesn’t apply to any biological research questions. Can I submit it? Sorry, our focus for this call is on biological research questions only. If you cannot articulate a research question relevant to biology, ending with a question mark, you do not have an eligible Wish.

6.       My Wish is sort of already granted. I think I could get the data I need using the EOL APIs, if I had the manpower and expertise. Can I still submit it? Yes. Our goal is to move from “possible in principle, using webservices” to “a practical option for researchers.”

7.       I don’t want to get scooped once my Wish is granted. How much detail must I reveal about my research question? Enough to convince us that it is a real research question. If this helps, you do not need to reveal the taxonomic group or region of interest, but yes, this might be easily deduced from information publicly available about you. Ultimately you may have to trust to the collegiality of your peers and your own specialized knowledge to protect you from this contingency.

8.       My Wish is going to require data that EOL probably doesn’t have yet, though it is available elsewhere.  Can I still submit the Wish? Yes, your wish could combine EOL data with non-EOL data.

9.       How can I find out what content EOL has, so I can determine what kinds of research questions are answerable using the collection?  Check out the text and media Content Summary and full list of Content Partners. You may need to prowl the site a little. Things to note: images, video and audio attached to any taxon are also displayed in the gallery of all parent taxa up to kingdom, so you can get a rough idea how much of a media type we have in any taxonomic group through its gallery. If you’re an EOL curator, you can also count text objects within higher taxa using the Worklist (eg: Plantae). Select OBJECT STATUS=Trusted (or All, if you prefer) and hit “show tasks”. Explore the Resource menu on the right to see which providers have provided how many objects. Be prepared to look around, try keyword searches in the FIND box, and sample.

9.       Can I make more than one Wish? Yes.



EOL will thank winners for their leadership and inspiration with their choice of the following limited edition, personalized EOL-themed gifts, emblazoned with the EOL logo and your choice of images from our collection:


·         Caffeinated EOL: a set of six 15oz mugs

·         EOL Tech: a mousepad, a smartphone case and a portable USB power supply

·         EOL outdoors: a hooded sweatshirt, a field bag and a stainless steel water bottle or Thermos

·         EOL@ home: a shower curtain and a 50”x60” fleece throw blanket