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Welcome to OpenTaxa!

OpenTaxa is a project aiming to allow the diversity of life to be better represented in popular culture, science communication, and more.

The problem

Sources estimate between 5 billion and one trillion species have existed on Earth. Right now, the lowest estimates for described living species give a number of about 1.5 million species. All sources agree that we have described at most 20% of all currently living species, and even the total amount of living species is much smaller than 1% of all species that have ever existed. With that said, take a moment to look at the representation of this diversity of lifeforms in popular culture. Very few works outside of documentaries pay much attention to lifeforms at all, even fewer give an idea of just how diverse these lifeforms can be, and even fewer look at life beyond an exploitative, "safari" viewpoint.

Let's look at the example of video games. Working on the creation of 3D assets, one can observe a near total lack of good quality species represented in the public domain. A quick survey of the models used by the AnyRPG project, which partially inspired OpenTaxa, shows that the creator of that project could only find 7 suitable models of real-life animals in the public domain, some without rigging, animations or quality textures. Even species as common as domestic sheep lack good options for representation in open source video games. Similarly, Wikipedia has thousands upon thousands of taxon pages for which not a single photograph or scientific illustration exists.

For those interested in making scientifically-accurate games, videos, documentaries etc. the problem is even bigger. As any computer graphics creator can tell you, most models shared online will not be of any species in particular - plants are labeled "plant" and created from photos of multiple species, butterflies are simply "yellow butterfly" and so on. Obviously, the creators are not at fault for working like this - they are not taxonomists, and for most needs, unlabeled creations are good enough. But the problem remains that, despite major strides in Open Access culture in recent years, complex and accurate depictions of nature are impossible or at the very least difficult in the current state of the public domain. Surely more depictions exist as commercial options, but the fact that the only existing good options for the depiction of many species exist under copyright locks is terrifying. We propose that a part of the lack of representation of lifeforms in popular media is due to the difficulty in finding or creating assets for this purpose. Below, we discuss a project for improving this situation.

The proposal

Considering the problems mentioned above, OpenTaxa aims to locate, create and organize collections of assets representing extinct and extant species of all kingdoms of life, releasing them into the public domain for the use of artists and game developers, movie producers and animators, educators and science communicators, and more. Going further than what was previously stated, we propose that reducing the current difficulty of finding quality assets for the representation of life on Earth can indirectly improve the outreach of conservation projects, as more representation in popular media can make people more aware of just how many amazing and impressive creatures have lived on the same planet as them, many of which can only recover from the impact of human exploitation with increased attention and interest from more aware humans. Besides categorizing existing assets, creations will be made to the highest possible degree of anatomic accuracy, released under free licenses, and sortable by taxonomical ranks and visual style (including realistic 3D models, scientific illustrations, photos, pixel art, 2D assets from different viewpoints, and more).

The methods

In addition to creating new drawings, 3D models, animations and photos of taxons, we will be mirroring existing files found while searching the internet across many different conservation and archival projects to ensure their survival and discoverability. Besides browsing the Index, which will be expanded whenever a new species receives original OpenTaxa-created assets, you can find our reports on both original file releases and external collection mirrors, releases to the public domain or other activities via our announcements channels (see the Announcements link below or our Discord server).

Detailed tips for contributing can be found on the Guidelines below.