Welcome to Moorea, a tiny, isolated island in the middle of the vast Pacific. Moorea is 132 square kilometers (51 square miles) of tropical ecosystems – from jungle and wetlands to beaches and coral reefs – with no major landmasses for thousands of miles. While it may look like the perfect vacation spot, it’s actually the site of intense fieldwork by a team of scientists determined to understand the island’s natural history in more detail than ever possible before--an effort known as the Moorea Biocode Project.

When completed, the researchers’ detailed catalog (or biocode) will represent a first for humankind: an entire tropical ecosystem surveyed and described down to its most fundamental element, the DNA in its organisms’ cells.

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Why do taxonomists—scientists who study living things and how they are related—need all those neatly preserved specimens in vials and jars? Find out how specimens collected in Moorea record a permanent snapshot of the island’s natural history and how they might be used in the future.

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