University of Florida scientists have teamed up with acclaimed artists to create two multimedia art pieces about the connections between all life forms.

The new pieces – a two-story-tall interactive light projection and an animated film – will premiere in November in a series of special events at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

The “One Tree, One Planet” series celebrates Earth’s rich diversity of animals, plants and microbes represented by the Tree of Life, the immense network of relationships that links all living things. The message of the series is simple: We’re all related.

“Just like you’re connected to your family, other species on Earth are also your family members,” said Doug Soltis, the project’s principal investigator, a distinguished professor and curator at the Florida Museum and professor in the UF department of biology. “As humans, we are just part of a much bigger web of life, and unless we cherish those connections, we all suffer.”

Soltis, a plant biologist, was part of a team of scientists that assembled the most comprehensive Tree of Life created, mapping the shared evolutionary history of and relationships between all 2.3 million species that have been named so far on the planet.

Understanding the Tree of Life contributes to the discovery of new medicines, the breeding of hardy crops that can resist pests and disease, and predictions of how species will respond to a rapidly changing climate, said Pam Soltis, co-principal investigator, a distinguished professor and curator at the Florida Museum and director of the UF Biodiversity Institute.

“Knowing how things are related to one another offers scientists a tremendous advantage in making strategic predictions,” she said. “If one plant produces a medicinal compound, its relatives could have similar properties. You’re not jumping out at random to one of 400,000 species of plants. You’re going to go to that same genus.”

Pam and Doug Soltis are passionate about helping people grasp the complexity, breadth and importance of Earth's biodiversity. Florida Museum photo by Kristen Grace

Pam and Doug Soltis are passionate about helping people grasp the complexity, breadth and importance of Earth’s biodiversity. Florida Museum photo by Kristen Grace

Doug and Pam Soltis, Florida Museum scientist Rob Guralnick and a group of colleagues collaborated with internationally acclaimed digital artist Naziha Mestaoui and UF Digital Worlds Institute Director James Oliverio to create two specially commissioned multimedia pieces that capture the grandeur and scope of the Tree of Life, where our species fits in and why protecting biodiversity is crucial to our health and quality of life.

The pieces will premiere at two free events at the Florida Museum from 7 to 9 p.m., Nov. 16 and Nov. 18.

Oliverio will present “TreeTender,” a short, animated film about the adventures of Gaia on her first day as the “TreeTender,” the caretaker of the Tree of Life. With the help of a savvy robot assistant, Gaia travels through time and across the Tree’s massive branches, learning how all life is connected. Her journey reveals how biodiversity supports human existence and helps her embrace the role of empowering others to become tenders of the Tree of Life.

Mestaoui, a Paris-based environmental artist and architect, will unveil “One Tree, One Planet: All Life Is One,” a two-story-tall, interactive digital video projection of the Tree of Life on the west exterior wall of the Harn Museum of Art. The projection zooms into the Tree’s many branches, alighting on unique examples of life. A soundtrack composed based on genomes across the Tree creates a symphony of life to accompany the artwork.

Spectators can use touchscreens to capture their heart rate and compare it with the heartbeat of other organisms and transpose the image of their face onto humans’ branch of the Tree of Life. “One Tree, One Planet: All Life Is One” also urges spectators to help protect biodiversity.

One of Mestaoui’s most recognized previous projects – “One Heart, One Tree” – debuted at the United Nations Climate Conference in 2015. She produced grand-scale “forests of light” by projecting trees on Parisian monuments, including the Eiffel Tower. Spectators could use their smartphones to virtually create a tree that grew at the rhythm of their heartbeat on the monuments. For each virtual tree, a real tree was planted as part of reforestation programs worldwide.

“The Tree of Life is huge, and it’s always been shown on an 8-by-11-inch piece of paper,” said Guralnick, Florida Museum associate curator of biodiversity informatics. “The ability to see the Tree in its glory at this scale and truly understand its size and power is unbelievably exciting.”

A complete schedule of events is at https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/onetree/events/.

For more about the “One Tree, One Planet” project, visit https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/onetree.

Funding from UF’s Office of the Provost, the Florida Museum, the Biodiversity Institute, the Genetics Institute and Biolink helped support the project.


Media contact: Paul Ramey, pramey@flmnh.ufl.edu, 352-273-2054


“One Tree, One Planet” Events

Nov. 13, 5:30-6:30 p.m. Public Lecture by Naziha Mestaoui (Harn Museum of Art, Chandler Auditorium)
Hear digital artist Naziha Mestaoui discuss “One Tree, One Planet,” her UF project focusing on biodiversity, as well as her 2015 projection on the Eiffel Tower in Paris, in a public lecture. Reception to follow.

Nov. 16, 7-9 p.m. “One Tree, One Planet” Premiere (Florida Museum of Natural History)
Watch the animated film “TreeTender” and experience the interactive digital projection “One Tree, One Planet: All Life Is One” in this special celebration of Earth’s biodiversity.

Nov. 17, 11:45 a.m.-12:45 p.m. Brown Bag Lunch with Naziha Mestaoui (UF Fine Arts Building C, Room 118)
Join digital artist Naziha Mestaoui for a lunchtime conversation about the intersection of art and science. RSVP here.

Nov. 17, 5-9 p.m. “One Tree” Beer Launch (First Magnitude Brewing Co.)
Head to First Magnitude for a party celebrating the release of the “One Tree” beer, a pale ale that incorporates 11 different ingredients from the Tree of Life.

Nov. 17, 6-7 p.m. Innovation Square “Live Oak Tree of Life” Program (Innovation Square)
Watch artist Naziha Mestaoui unveil “Live Oak Tree of Life,” a light projection of the Tree of Life on live trees in Innovation Square. Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe, UF Senior Vice President and COO Charlie Lane, Mestaoui, plant biologists Doug Soltis and Pam Soltis and Dean of the College of the Arts Lucinda Lavelli will speak briefly.

Nov. 18, 7-9 p.m. “One Tree, One Planet” Encore (Florida Museum of Natural History)
Watch the animated film “TreeTender” and experience the interactive digital projection “One Tree, One Planet: All Life Is One” in this special celebration of Earth’s biodiversity.

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By Natalie van Hoose | More articles by Natalie

• Learn more about the Laboratory of Molecular Systematics and Evolutionary Genetics at the Florida Museum.

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