Technical Development: Information Architecture
Harvesting ToL Data
The node-based information architecture of the Tree of Life Web Project supports phylogenetically structured queries. Such queries are executed by harvesting objects from specific branches in the Tree of Life.
For example you could query for all the images within a given group of beetles. The system would then identify the ancestral node for this particular group, and it would retrieve all the images that are attached to nodes in that particular piece of the tree. Of course, individual subgroups could be excluded from the set by defining the basal nodes of the branches to be withheld.
Any node in the tree can function as a criterion in such queries, so this system provides great granularity for the meaningful grouping of objects within in the database.
Sharing Data with Other Projects
Currently Tree of Life data are used primarily to create ToL web pages. In the future, these data will be made available to a variety of different requestors including other databases and analytical tools. For example, a database project focusing on endangered insects might request the structure of the entire insect branch of the Tree of Life, so that they can present their own information in a phylogenetic context. The ToL database would then return the structure of all the nodes descending from the Insecta node.
Another project may be interested in using all of the objects of a particular class, e.g. pictures of insect wings, that are attached to nodes in the insect branch. The requested objects can then be harvested from the ToL database and returned to the requestor.
Objects attached to nodes in the Tree of Life can also be used to analyze patterns of biological diversity across the phylogeny. By integrating with analysis programs (e.g., Mesquite), the ToL Project will provide its visitors with the opportunity to conduct exploratory studies online, using tools available on the ToL web site. Both professional and student researchers will then be able to trace the distribution of characteristics across branches of the Tree of Life, thus pondering the forces that may have shaped the observed diversity of living things.