Nature and Biodiversity

This chart shows the circle of life with every known species on Earth

A man poses for photos as solar halo is seen in the sky of Brasilia September 30, 2011.  This weather phenomenon creates rainbows around the sun, and according to meteorologist, halo is formed by the reflection of ice crystals.  REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino (BRAZI

A man poses for photos as solar halo is seen in the sky. Image: REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino.

Katherine Ellen Foley
Health and Science Reporter, Quartz
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Nature and Biodiversity?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Future of the Environment is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

Future of the Environment

The animal kingdom is massive, but scientists know that they have only found a portion of its members. They are currently aware of about 2.3 million species—but that number increases by about 15,000 new additions per year, according to some estimates.

Researchers from 12 institutions in the US collaborated for years to document and quantify all of these animals, and created a comprehensive diagram to illustrate each known species and its evolutionary relationship to one another. Their work was published (paywall) last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

A graphic representation of the circle of life. The center point of the circle represents the first single-cell organism from which all life descends. Each color represents a different life form, including bacteria, fungi, animals, and algaes.(Stephen Smith/University of Michigan)

As scientists identify more unique species,“we expect the circle to broaden,” Karen Cranston, a computational evolutionary biologist at Duke University and co-creator of the project, told Scientific American, which created its own version of the chart to help readers understand its breakdown. With biodiversity loss taking place at analarming rate, having this accessible categorization could help researchers better quantify the pace at which species are becoming extinct.

The Open Tree of Life project provides a space for anyone to propose updates or suggestions, which should theoretically increase the size of the available species database. Researchers hope that this graphic display of the circle of life will help ecologists and biologists understand the effects of climate change, conservation efforts, agriculture, and other human-mitigated processes on the animal kingdom.

Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Nature and BiodiversityFourth Industrial Revolution
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

Critical minerals demand has doubled in the past five years – here are some solutions to the supply crunch

Emma Charlton

May 16, 2024


About Us



Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum