Collaborating on Growing the Tree of Life

MorphoBank is an essential online resource used by researchers in comparative biology, paleontology and anthropology to help construct the Tree of Life—a genealogy of all living and extinct species. MorphoBank hosts relevant peer reviewed scientific data, and also allows researchers to collaborate on building, publishing and permanently hosting morphological phylogenetic matrices, a key data type in these research fields. Datasets in MorphoBank include both scientific observations and images, thereby supporting our understanding of the morphological basis for the evolutionary relationships among species. There are currently 1,330 publicly accessible projects in MorphoBank, containing 165,570 images and 835 matrices. MorphoBank also has an additional 1,613 projects in progress, containing 146,272 images and 1,443 matrices. Nearly 4,000 scientists and students are content builders on MorphoBank.


Phoenix maintains a support site for MorphoBank to help users with uploading and using data. Click on the button to get started! 


MorphoBank is a free, open source project supported by memberships. Please help us continue to provide the services you value by asking your institution to join us! To better serve our community and emphasize our commitment to open science, we are transitioning from a usage-based to a benefit-based model. Please contact us for more information, and thank you for your support.

Benefits/Membership Level

Open Science Champion

 Open Science Leader

Open Science Supporter

Annual membership fee$5,000 USD$3,800 USD$1,400 USD
Branded instance
Access to usage statistics
Access to cumulative deposit statistics
Access to download/reuse statistics
Prioritized help for data curation for scientists8 projects5 projects2 projects
Prioritized attention to requests for improvements321
Training and support1 live online training/year

As a MorphoBank member at any level, you contribute to advancing open science in various ways:

Open Data Sharing: Your fees support maintaining and enhancing the platform, facilitating data sharing and collaboration among researchers.
Data Curation and Quality Control: Part of your fees ensures datasets meet high standards for accuracy and reliability.
Community Engagement: We allocate fees to workshops, webinars, and conferences, fostering knowledge exchange and collaboration.
Software Development: Your support helps develop user-friendly tools that promote transparency and reproducibility.


There are somewhere around nine million living species on Earth, plus hundreds of thousands of fossil species. Only a small portion of this diversity has been discovered, however, much less anatomically described, figured, and studied. Capturing this knowledge impacts many areas of our lives from medicine and drug discovery, to agriculture, to understanding the current and past biodiversity of our planet.

When researchers in this area of study deposit their data into generalist repositories like Figshare, Dryad, or institutional library databases, they may be doing their research a disservice. These generalist repositories are unstructured because they deal with a wide variety of data types. Therefore, they cannot guarantee that data deposited will be interpretable by either a computer or a human in the future. By contrast, the basic curation that MorphoBank provides is an essential part of keeping deposited data reusable. MorphoBank’s database is specialized and structured to build, curate and permanently house phylogenetic matrices derived from the study of phenotypes. Data of this type housed in more generalized repositories is often unusable due to insufficient curation at submission, and it can also be much harder to locate for reuse. Additionally, as both a web application and a database, MorphoBank provides tools for displaying data and facilitating data collection by teams during the research project and during peer review. These tools are not available on the desktop or at other generalist repositories.

Open data is a good thing, but it isn’t free. Supporting MorphoBank helps ensure that open data is actually usable to researchers and not just collected and made available in order to check a box. Supporting MorphoBank with your membership is your way of acknowledging that MorphBank is important to your research, and that preserving this resource so that other researchers can use it is also important.

The discovery of the Tree of Life has been identified by Science magazine as one of the major research questions of modern biology and paleontology. Scientific experts specializing in species across the Tree of Life including bacteria and eukaryotes collect thousands of morphological (phenotypic) observations on living and fossil species every year. These observations are assembled into phylogenetic matrices, each of which contributes to different branches on the Tree of Life. When scientists find new species, including new fossils, they need immediate and digital access to the complete phylogenetic matrices that have previously been published. Building on the older published matrices, they add new species and new morphological data to refine the Tree of Life and publish new peer-reviewed research. MorphoBank is the archive of published morphological phylogenetic matrices. For many years, lack of access to this older data was a major impediment to this research, much of which is now done by collaborative teams. MorphoBank came into existence to address these challenges.

MorphoBank was launched in 2001 by Dr. Maureen O’Leary at Stony Brook University, who still serves as MorphoBank’s director. Since then, MorphoBank has been supported by the US National Science Foundation through numerous grants, with additional support from NOAA and in-kind support from Stony Brook University and the American Museum of Natural History. MorphoBank operates with a part-time staff of professional software developers and curators. Director O’Leary is advised by an Executive Committee of scientists from a variety of countries and from disciplines within comparative biology and paleontology.