TREE OF LIFE
A “tree of life” is a scientific metaphor used to visually represent the history of life and the evolutionary links between living and extinct organisms by showing the branching relationships between groups of animals and plants. Here’s what Darwin himself had to say about it: “The affinities of all the beings of the same class have sometimes been represented by a great tree. I believe this simile largely speaks the truth.” Amen. As you go down the tree you realize at some point we are all related to everything. Life has occurred only once on our planet and we are all variations on that original seed. Mind blowing and somehow truly liberating all at the same time.
I like to point out that all of we backboned animals are the spawn of ancient sea squirts and we’re all descended from wayward lobe-finned fish. A recent scientific paper also revealed that the mysterious Southeast Asian colugos are the closest group to primates. Pretty wild, eh?
I worked on this version of the tree with a small team of scientists and educators including Chuck Baxter, John and Vicki Pearse, Nancy Burnett and Natasha Fraley. I was commissioned by the fine folks from the Shape of Life website to create an original drawing on the occasion of Chuck’s 90th birthday in November of 2017. Chuck taught marine biology at Stanford for decades and was one of the key players in the founding of the Monterey Bay Aquarium. You can spot him and the aquarium in the lower right of the artwork.
The beautiful coloring was done by Grace Freeman.