The AVAToL Collection

The US National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Assembling, Visualizing, and Analyzing the Tree of Life (AVAToL) competition was a one-time “Ideas Lab” activity developed by the NSF in response to a variety of communities (users, developers, and funders) with the unified desire to see “The Tree of Life” – not just branches, but the entire tree.  While systematists have been resolving branches of the Tree of Life since Darwin’s revolutionary concept that all living organisms are related by descent with modification and taxonomists have been articulating leaves of the tree since Linnaeus’ formulation of our current approach to naming species, there has yet to be an effort to synthesize our systematic and taxonomic knowledge across the entire tree.  There is good reason for this lack of grand synthesis: this is a really hard problem!  The NSF invited approximately 30 investigators who independently shared this overall goal to an Ideas Lab in Lake Placid, NY, in August of 2012.  This group of investigators, drawn from a diversity of fields with a breadth of relevant expertise, self-assembled into thematic groups some of which were eventually funded by NSF to conduct three related projects directed at the AVAToL goals.  The Open Tree of Life project strives to produce the first draft of a comprehensive Tree of Life and provide tools for community enhancement and annotation.  The Arbor project is developing comparative methods with utility across large sections and/or the entire tree of life.  Finally, the Phenomics project is developing approaches for exploring and documenting phenotypic diversity across the tree of life.  Because these are inherently community driven and community interactive projects that all emphasize open access and open communication with the phylogeny generator, phylogeny user, and phylogeny funder communities, we, as editors of the open access publication platform PLOS Currents: Tree of Life, felt it important to inform these communities of these projects and help facilitate the interaction between these projects and the associated communities.  We have, therefore, invited summaries of each of these three projects and a summary of the “Ideas Lab” concept that initiated the process in the first place. These will be published over the next few months. We hope that these articles and PLOS Currents: Tree of Life will provide a stimulating discussion platform for moving the Tree of Life effort significantly forward as a global community resource for phylogenetic information.


– Keith A. Crandall, Douglas E. Soltis, Pamela S. Soltis

Editors, PLOS Currents: Tree of Life


The AVAToL Collection: