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2018 ISCB Art in Science Competition

Ruth Callaway Swansea University, Biosciences, UK, Mondrian’s Sum of SquaresFIRST PLACE

Ruth Callaway

Swansea University, Biosciences, UK

Mondrian’s Sum of Squares

Science inspired many artist, but here it was the other way around. The visualisation of marine biodiversity data was modelled on paintings by the early 20th century Dutch artist Piet Mondrian. It is an ongoing challenge for ecologists to compress and simplify complex data and to illustrate patterns in marine ecosystems. Differently coloured and sized rectangles and squares were assembled in this Mondrian’s Sum of Squares and simultaneously shows numerical and taxonomic information of a benthic invertebrate seafloor community (Swansea Bay, Wales, UK). Each field, large or small, represents a different species. The size of the square or rectangle indicates how numerically common a species was, and colours indicate taxonomic or functional groups (blue: polychaete worms, yellow: bivalves, red: crustaceans, white: other mobile species, grey: other sessile species). The few large squares highlight that the seafloor community consists of just a handful of common species, while most occur in low densities. The overwhelming number of blue fields shows the importance of worm species for biodiversity. Like many of Mondrian’s paintings, this artwork is an abstract representation of the natural world. It differs in that Piet Mondrian deliberately stepped away from reality, while this work translates scientific data into art.