Frequently Asked Questions

If you have a question that is not answered here, please contact us. We may then be able to add your question to the list below.

  • Q: What does the colour scheme / size of branches / size of leaf indicate?

    A: On the standard OneZoom tree, leaves that are known to represent vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered species according to the IUCN Red List are shown in red. The width of the branches and the size of the leaves on the OneZoom tree are determined by the mathematics of the fractal form. In fact, this results in species with large leaves being ones with few close living relatives - technically, leaf size is a measure of what conservationists call phylogenetic distinctiveness. While it might seem more egalitarian to show, for example, all leaves at the same size, that would make most leaves impossible to see, as they would need to be drawn at the smallest size available. To put this in context, when the smallest leaf on our tree is shown at a readable size, the rest of the tree occupies an area more than 60 times wider than the solar system. Similarly if the width of branches represented, for example, the number of living species descending from that branch, then the branch to the insects would be the only visible thing on the tree.

  • Q: I can't find my favourite species

    A: Our database currently contains 2,123,179 species, representing almost all living species apart from viruses and eubacteria. If the species you are searching for isn't there, it could be because it is known by a different scientific (latin) name. It could also be that the species you are looking for is a subspecies of a leaf that is on the tree. For example, domestic dogs are a subspecies of wolf, so do not appear as a separate leaf on our tree. Finally, there are some species that are so difficult to place on the tree that they have been temporarily omitted from the Open Tree of Life, from where we obtain much of our information. For some popular groups, such as the kinglet family of birds (which includes the goldcrest, we have attempted to graft these back onto the OneZoom tree, but for some other groups, such as the Nerillidae family of polychaete worms, we have not. Basically, if you can find your species on the Open Tree of Life browser, it should be on the OneZoom tree. If you have exhausted all possibilities, we may be able to help if you email us.

  • Q: The tree is wrong!

    A: We have a bespoke tree, but lots of the detail is based on the Open Tree of Life. If you think some of this is wrong, and you have a better idea, then we strongly encourage you to upload a new tree to the Open Tree of Life. The current design of the OneZoom tree means that branching points in the tree need to split into two - we cannot show simultaneous splitting into three or more descendants (evolutionary biologists call this a polytomy). Areas of the tree that have lots of polytomies are often those which are little studies (or where studies have not made it into the Open Tree. means we have had to we resolved the order of splitting the branches randomly. In future we hope there will be fewer of these randomly resolved areas.

  • Q: Why don't you have viruses or fossil species

    A: It is unclear how viruses are related to other forms of life, a problem which is confounded by their fast rates of DNA change. Some viruses are probably pieces of larger genomes that have literally gained a life of their own. If were were to place them on the OneZoom tree, they would appear next to the large-organism branch from which they have escaped, and viruses would end up scattered all over the tree. Fossils would be a nice addition to the OneZoom tree, and we are investigating ways we could add them. Note, however, that most fossils aren't large impressive creatures like dinosaurs, but are tiny shells, parts of leaves, bits of exoskeleton, and so forth, which can look rather dull, and would clutter up many parts of the tree. Also, many fossils are poorly placed in the Open Tree of Life, and would require a huge amount of hand-curation to place in sensible positions.

  • Q: Can I sponsor a leaf for a company or other organization?

    A: if you are not an individual, we will consider sponsorship on a case by case basis. Please contact us for further details.

  • Q: Why can I only sponsor for 4 years.

    A: We want to sustain this community resource in the long term, which requires ongoing funding. You will get the first refusal to renew and keep your sponsorship when the 4 year period expires, and we intend to continue to acknowledge the contribution of lapsed sponsorships elsewhere in the future.

  • Q: Can I use your graphics or pictures in my own project?

    A: Please feel free to use our fractal visualizations as you wish for non-commercial purposes, as long as you credit us. The images themselves have been gathered from a large number of sources (Wikipedia, Flickr, etc.), mostly via the Encyclopedia of Life, and each will have their own licence (either public domain, or cc-by, or cc-by-sa). You can look this up by zooming into the small copyright symbol at the bottom left of every image on the tree: the symbol also serves as a link that will take you to the image page on the Encyclopedia of Life, from where you can find the original source. For more details please see our terms of use/terms#useterms. Note that if you wish to use a screenshot without having to provide a list of sources, then we recommend that you use our public domain only visualization (Settings→Image Sources→Public Domain). Higher resolution SVG images can be exported as screenshots from our expert version/life_expert.

  • Q: The image or common name is wrong / poor quality / badly cropped.

    A: We have an automated procedure to gather common names, and rate and crop images from the Encyclopedia of Life; this can sometime result in less-than ideal information appearing on our tree (e.g. bad common names, fuzzy photos or range maps as canonical images, etc). You can help the community at large by getting a username on EoL, which automatically allows you to rate the quality of the pictures on EoL (e.g. by following the copyright link on the OneZoom image, as detailed in the previous question). If you fill out a few simple details on EoL, you will automatically become an assistant curator and will be additionally be able to crop pictures and verify their taxonomic identity (top right of the image page), as well as change common names (click on the EoL names tab, then the common names side tab). We recommend that you make changes to the Encyclopedia of Life via the OneZoom interface, for example by clicking on the copyright symbol (for images) or the species name (for common names - chose the EoL tab to display the appropriate Encyclopedia of Life page). Making changes from within the OneZoom tree viewer allows us to trigger an update to own database as necessary. If your changes aren't reflected on OneZoom after an hour or so, drop us an email.

  • Q: How long did this take to build?

    A: The quick answer is, a very, very long time... To give the longer answer as well though, the idea of OneZoom was first conceived in 2011, so it's been more than 7 years already to get from nothing to the current state of the project. There have been some periods of really intensive work - for example in the run up to our launch as a charity with the OneZoom software version 2, Yan Wong and James Rosindell worked solidly together for 3 full days with only 5 hours sleep (in total!).

    It's most important to say, though, that when most people ask this question they are thinking of the huge task of curating the images and all that data. Actually this was a relatively small part of our workload thanks to the input of other projects and databases that already do a great job of providing such data. In particular, the Open Tree of Life project provided most of our tree of life and the images were got from the Encyclopedia of Life. Both these projects are fantastic resources that have been invaluable for us.

  • Q: Why is sponsorship of this leaf expensive or cheap?

    A: The minimum donation amount required to sponsor different leaves is informed by a measure of popularity that we've developed for this project. As far as we are aware no-one else has built a popularity ranking for all species of life on earth before, so there are bound to be some teething troubles. We know there are some bargains out there if you search for them - the plants are particularly undervalued and there are some lovely ones out there in the £10 donation category.