Dr. Quentin Wheeler and I developed the "Speciescape" in 1990, after seeing a small drawing associated with an E. O. Wilson essay in Science of a gigantic ant next to a jaguar, where the relative size of the creatures was determined by the biomass of social insects compared to that of vertebrates in a tropical rain forest. We wondered if the same concept could be adapted to use size to represent the huge dichotomy in species numbers between groups of organisms. The illustration evolved over the next few months, using statistics from E.O. Wilson’s Biodiversity, published in 1988.
The pen and ink drawing of "Speciescape" was first published as a fold-out insert for the article “Insect Diversity and Cladistic Constraints,” by Quentin D. Wheeler, in Annals of the Entomological Society of America, Sept. 1990, Vol. 83, No. 6.
Shortly after it first appeared "Speciescape" went viral. The illustration went out over the AP Wire Service and was picked up by many publications including N.Y. Times Science Times (Dec.18, 1990), Popular Science (May, 1991), Wildlife Conservation (July/Aug, 1991), Journal of Forestry (Feb. 1991), and many others. It seemed that every other week another publication requested permission to print it. Quentin was delighted to grant permission for any educational purpose, since promoting the importance of biodiversity has been dear to his heart for his entire career.
In 2000, I decided to redraw the illustration in full color, as an exercise to learn how to use some of the new tools available in Adobe Illustrator, particularly the gradient mesh tool. I've followed Quentin Wheeler’s lead in making the illustration freely available to any person or organization requesting it for educational purposes.
There have been take-offs on the "Speciescape" over the years, usually switching the beetle to a different insect. Even Scientific American published their own version, keeping the same landscape, but substituting a different organism for each one in the original. Popular Science apparently did not like the fact that the illustration was pen and ink, and colored it to suit themselves. The latest of these modifications was by myself, for the book Monarchs and Milkweeds, by Anurag Agrawal, 2017, where the beetle has been changed to a monarch butterfly.