The Atlas of Living Australia (ALA), in collaboration with the creators of PhyloJIVE, will soon be introducing new tools to explore species data and relationships from a phylogenetic (or tree of life) perspective. The tools are intended for both novices and experts alike, and aim to make phylogenetic approaches to data exploration and visualisation accessible to a broad range of audiences.

A phylogenetic tree showing the evolutionary relationships between Acacia species (left) is intersected with ALA Acacia records and precipitation layers to reveal the rainfall envelope occupied by a clade of Acacias. The envelope occupied at present (top right) can be compared to the envelope that would be occupied under 2030 predicted rainfall (bottom right).


A phylogeny (or a tree of life) is essentially a theory about how organisms are related to one another through evolutionary time. Phylogenies are based on the assumption that more closely related species will be more similar to one another, and they are commonly built using genetic sequences or physical characters. They are often visually represented as trees: the tips of the ever branching tree representing species, and the branches representing ‘evolutionary distance’ (e.g. length of time) from the ancestors from which they evolved.


ALA’s new phylogenetic tools integrate phylogenetic trees and spatial mapping so that phylogenies can be represented spatially by, for example species occurrence or character. Here, the occurrence of Acacia species from the clade highlighted by the green node is mapped and coloured by species.


The new ALA-PhyloJIVE tools intersect species occurrence data with environmental layers and phylogenetic trees, enabling a variety of new perspectives on biodiversity. For example, you will be able to investigate the environmental envelopes occupied by the species of any chosen clade (a group of related organisms sharing a common ancestral node). You can also measure and compare biodiversity for any given area/s in ways that account for both the number of species occurring there, and their evolutionary distinctness from one another, using phylogenetic diversity. The tools will also allow you to map the spatial distribution of characters (e.g. waxy leaves) across the landscape.


Phylogenetic Diversity (PD) of amphibians (grid cells 50x50km) with darker areas indicating higher PD. With ALA’s new tools PD can be assessed at a continental scale (as shown here), or compared between any number of user-defined areas, providing new options for exploring biodiversity patterns. (Map not corrected for patchy sampling. Source tree: Pyron RA, Wiens JJ. 2011. A large-scale phylogeny of Amphibia with over 2,800 species, and a revised classification of extant frogs, salamanders, and caecilians. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 61: 543-583.)


Watch this space for notification of the availability of these phylogenetic tools. Your feedback on the tools will be welcome.

For more information, please contact

UPDATE: explore Phylolink here: