From Tree of Life to Web of Life: How Google Images Can Help Ecologists Study Evolution

Below is a press release about the Methods paper ‘Just Google it: assessing the use of Google Images to describe geographical variation in visible traits of organisms‘ taken from the British Ecological Society.

Black sparrowhawks are either completely dark or have a white breast. ©Oggmus

Black sparrowhawks are either completely dark or have a white breast. ©Oggmus

Animals caught on camera by amateur photographers and posted on the web could become an important new tool for studying evolution and other ecological questions, researchers from South Africa have found. Their study – the first of its kind – is published today in Methods in Ecology and Evolution.

Colour polymorphism – when a species has two or more colour types – has fascinated biologists since Darwin. The occurrence of these different colour types often varies geographically, providing a useful way of studying how different colour morphs – or phenotypes – evolve.

But the fieldwork needed to collect these data is time consuming and expensive, so Dr Arjun Amar and his student Gabriella Leighton from the University of Cape Town wondered if ecologists could use the thousands of animal images posted on the internet instead. Continue reading