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Peer Review

Tree of Life



Overall Numeric Rating:

5 stars
Content Quality: 5 stars
Effectiveness: 4 stars
Ease of Use: 5 stars
Reviewed: Feb 16, 2002 by Biology Editorial Board
Overview: The Tree of Life is a site that contains a large collection of web pages that allow the user to find information about specific groups of organisms. This review is of the beta version of an upgrade to the site. The site blends the needs of active researchers and educators. Each page contains information on a particular group of organisms; the pages are arranged in the form of a phylogenetic tree. The materials detail a current hypothesis of phylogeny, information on the groups, and the literature supporting the cladogram. Biologists who are experts on those organisms author the pages. The phylogenetic tree becomes the means of navigating through the site. On each page is a diagram of that part of the tree and a discussion of topics relating to the particular group on that page, including links to other sources of information. By its very nature, this site will never be complete, as changes to our understanding of the tree will continue to occur. However, at this point, there are numerous incomplete groups of organisms in the tree. The authors are aware of these and plan to gradually complete all parts. A formal peer review program has been established to ensure quality control on what is a very large and complex site that will only become larger in the future.
Type of Material: Collection/database
Technical Requirements: html
Identify Major Learning Goals: The site was not specifically designed as an educational site. However, education is included in the Project Goals listed below and the authors are encouraging more information of interest to non-biologists be placed on the site.
- to provide a uniform and linked framework in which to publish electronically information about the evolutionary history and characteristics of all groups of organisms.
- to present a modern scientific view of the evolutionary tree that unites all organisms on earth.
- to aid education about and appreciation of biological diversity.
- to provide (eventually) a life-wide data base and searching system about characteristics of organisms.
- to provide a means to find taxon-specific information on the Internet, both taxonomic and otherwise.
Target Student Population: Middle School to Professional Biologists

Evaluation and Observation

Content Quality

Rating: 5 stars

Quality of Content Ratings: (4.5) (4.75) = 4.6

  • Outstanding source of current information on phylogenetic relationships in general

  • Provides information on phylogenetic groups that get little exposure in most courses; broadens student and instructor opportunities

  • Access to succinct accounts of the phylogeny by people who are practitioners in the field

  • Clearly illustrates biodiversity

  • Additional information on characteristics of a taxon is thorough in those parts that are complete

  • Formal peer review system being established to ensure accuracy and currency

  • Many sections are not yet complete-those looking for a specific part of the phylogenetic tree may find that it contains names only at this point in the site's construction

Potential Effectiveness as a Teaching Tool

Rating: 4 stars

Potential Effectiveness as a Teaching-Learning Tool Ratings: (4.0) (4.0) = 4.0

  • Excellent resource to understand what is meant by a phylogenetic tree in general and evolutionary relationships specifically

  • Good source of information on biodiversity

  • Many links to more specific information in the completed taxa

  • Concepts page provides links to the basic concepts involved in evolution and phylogeny

  • "Tree House" concept will provide additional information about the organisms on the associated branch and will be an excellent educational resource

  • Needs guided exercises for most students to be able to gain information beyond description of a particular taxon

  • Many of the planned educational aspects of the site incomplete; only one tree house started

  • No mechanisms for sharing how instructors might use the site

Ease of Use for Both Students and Faculty

Rating: 5 stars

Ease of Use Ratings: (4.5) (5.0) = 4.75

  • Layout of site mirrors the subject-a creative and effective approach

  • Links up and down tree or back to home page provide easy navigation; use of button for links provides pictorial guide

  • A series of guide pages provide clear and accurate assistance

  • Site has excellent search facilities

  • A page providing a sampling of Tree Of Life pages is an excellent way to become familiar with the structure of the site

  • Site is very large and will continue to grow; it is easy to lose your place in the site

  • Will take any user some time to become familiar with the arrangement and use of the site; this will be particularly true for the non-professional biologist