J Syst Evol

• Research Article •    

Assembling an illustrated family-level tree of life for exploration in mobile devices Short-running title: Assembling and exploring the family tree of life

Andrés A. Del Risco1, Diego A. Chacón2, Lucia Ángel3, David A. García3   

  1. 1. Línea de Conectividad e Interacciones Ecológicas, Subdirección Científica, Jardín Botánico de Bogotá José Celestino Mutis 111071, Bogotá, Colombia;
    2. Grupo de Investigación en Enfermedades Tropicales del Ejército (GINETEJ), Laboratorio de Referencia e Investigación, Dirección de Sanidad Ejército, Bogotá, Colombia;
    3. Laboratorio de Ecología Molecular de Vertebrados Acuáticos (LEMVA), Departamento de Ciencias Biológicas, Universidad de los Andes, Bogotá, Colombia
    Corresponding Author:Andrés A. Del Risco. E-mail: andresdelrisco29@gmail.com
  • Received:2023-09-04 Accepted:2023-12-22

Abstract: Since the concept of the tree of life was introduced about 150 years ago, a considerable fraction of the scientific community has focused its efforts on its reconstruction, with remarkable progress during the last two decades with the advent of DNA sequences. However, the assemblage of a comprehensive and explorable tree of life has been a difficult task to achieve due to two main obstacles: i) information is scattered into several individual sources and ii) practical visualization tools for exploring large trees are needed. To overcome both challenges, we aimed to synthesize a family-level tree of life by compiling over 1400 published phylogenetic studies, choosing the source trees that represent the best phylogenetic hypotheses to date based on a set of objective criteria. Moreover, we dated the tree by employing over 550 secondary calibrations using publicly available sequences for more than 5000 taxa, and by incorporating age ranges from the fossil record for over 2800 taxa. Additionally, we developed a mobile app for smartphones to facilitate the visualization and exploration of the resulting tree. Interactive features include exploration by the zooming and panning gestures of touch screens, collapsing branches, visualizing specific clades as subtrees, a search engine, and a timescale to determine extinction and divergence dates, among others. Small illustrations of organisms are displayed at the terminals to better visualize the morphological diversity of life. Our assembled tree currently includes over 7000 families, and its content will be expanded through regular updates to cover all life on earth at family-level.

Key words: Evolution, Mobile App, Phylogeny, Tree of Life, Visualization