The Tree of Life is illustrated in a very large and simplified format on the wall in the Wild Planet exhibition. The diagram uses a thick, blue horizontal line to illustrate branches.Off shoots extend at a 45-degree angle in a thinner blue line depicting the branches, and round leaves at the end of the branches have a colourful picture of animals or creatures in that particular grouping.
There are also short branches extending off the tree or branches which have a small circle at the end.
On our simplified Tree of Life diagram, each leaf represents a major animal group while the branches show how these species have evolved from common ancestors over millions of years. Those species with a recent common ancestor share more features and sit nearby on the Tree, while those with a more distant ancestor will have greater differences and sit further apart. The Tree of Life reminds us just how interconnected all life on Earth is and the importance of preserving its precious biodiversity.
On the far left of this display is a box which has an interactive touchscreen used by visitors to search for animals. This equipment provides information on the animals listed on the top 5 branches - all of which are vertebrates including our own primate branch, and which are enclosed within a dotted circle.
Continue listening for a detailed description of the Tree of Life diagram and where different animal species sit on branches in the display.
Starting on the left, at the top of the tree:
There are 2 branches off the top point of the tree, each with a separate leaf. First a picture of 2 children with the tag placental mammals (including us), dogs, giraffes; the second a picture of a koala noted with marsupial mammals such as koalas, possums and kangaroos.
The next branch shoots upwards and has a picture of an echidna and monotreme mammals such as platypuses, echidnas.
Further along a branch points downwards and has 4 twigs, each with a separate leaf; 1. Turtle – turtles, tortoises; 2. Head of an alligator – crocodiles, alligators; 3. Head of a crown bird – birds (the only surviving dinosaurs); and 4. Two snakes – lizards, snakes.
The last branch in the dotted circle has a picture of a frog – frogs and salamanders.
Just outside the dotted circle, 2 branches extend from the same point on the tree, one branch upwards – lungfish; and a second branch downwards – coelacanth.
From here, moving to the right along the tree, branches extend upward or downward:
- Ray-finned fishes such as salmon and snapper;
- Sharks and rays;
- Sea stars and sea urchins;
- 2 twigs off one branch – 1. Snails, oysters, octopuses; 2. Earthworms, leeches, marine worms.
- 5 twigs off one branch – 1. Roundworms; 2. Spiders, ticks and scorpions; 3. Crabs, lobsters, and amphipods; 4. Insects and 5. Millipedes and centipedes.
- Next branch – jellyfish, corals and anemones
- Final branch – sponges.
The last part of the Tree of Life, which is actually its base, is at the right side of the wall. It has 5 branches each with a patterned green leaf at the end and 5 branches with small circles on the end.
- At the very top is the largest leaf titled Animals.
- Below and branching off to the right is fungi.
- The middle branch extending to the left is green plants.
- The last branch, close to the base, is bacteria.
The Tree gives us great insight into the Earth's biodiversity. It's a valuable tool used to assess conservation priorities by measuring and preserving the diversity of features that species have developed through their evolutionary history.
Did you know that DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is the thread that connects all life on this planet? From bacteria to the Blue Whale, DNA is the blueprint that encodes the genetic instructions determining the size, shape and function of all living things.
The Museum’s Australian Centre for Wildlife Genomics (ACWG) conducts DNA-based research that ranges from investigating the evolution of species to understanding the patterns of genetic diversity and relatedness. The results can be used to identify new species and help conserve those that are threatened. The ACWG also works with other organisations to provide species identifications, help detect pest species, track the effects of climate change and provide evidence to help solve wildlife crime.