From the Magazine

How Much Life Exists in One Cubic Foot?

A photographer’s five-year project captures earth’s vast biodiversity.

David Liittschwager had a question: “How much life can be found in a small piece of the world, in just one cubic foot, over the course of a normal day?” Seeking an answer, he began a nearly five-year project to photograph organisms in six locales representing earth’s vast biodiversity—including a cloudforest, shrubland, and a coral reef. In each location, Liittschwager placed a hollow green metal box measuring a foot per side. For several weeks, at different times of day, he photographed the creatures that flew, crawled, or swam through the box. Spliced together, the images offer a sample of what might appear in this spot in one day.

See this article's accompanying photo gallery

In French Polynesia, Liittschwager submerged his cube in Temae Reef, off Moorea. The kaleidoscopic image above is a two-page spread featuring nearly 400 organisms, from a pearly shell-less marine snail with pinprick eyes to a translucent larval octopus so delicate it could be blown glass. His finished project, A World in One Cubic Foot, is confectionery for the eyes, each species a tasty morsel. Yet the work is incomplete, he says. In this collage, for instance, the algae on the bottom row, just about center, houses even more species within its verdant ruffles—life within life. “Every one of these places is more amazing than what I was able to show,” says Liittschwager. 

Photographer: David Liittschwager
Where: Temae Reef, Moorea, French Polynesia 

Camera: Canon 1Ds
Lens: MP-E 65 mm and 100 mm macro
Exposure: f11 with the 65 mm lens and f22 with the 100 mm lens


Stay abreast of Audubon

Get updates about our conservation work and how to help birds.