National herbarium collections represent a rich, essentially untapped resource of information that is of biological significance. Since these facilities are usually developed and maintained by plant taxonomists, informatics initiatives relating to herbarium specimen data often focus on the extraction and manipulation of data that are of interest to plant taxonomists and curators, i.e., type specimens, transaction management, label preparation, etc. Global access to herbarium data via networked systems forces consideration of informatics tools that provide specimen-based data for a broad range of potential clients to answer critical questions concerning plant diversity and distribution. Research of the Texas A&M Bioinformatics Working Group and collaborators is directed toward this goal. Our objective is to develop WWW-based systems that provide easy entry, rapid response, and maximum content of data that are relevant to biodiversity problems.

Systems used to generate diversity and distribution maps for the Arkansas flora were developed during work with the Flora of Texas Consortium to generate state-level distribution maps for merged herbarium data representing Texas Helianthus and selected Bouteloua species. This research, and subsequent work with the Biota of North America Program to explore the use of similar systems for North American taxa of the Chenopodiaceae and Cactaceae, was limited to taxonomic subsets.

This 'Arkansas mapper' project was initiated as a prototypic test for systems development with a full suite of distribution data representing the complete flora of a region. Data were initially sent to Texas A&M from BONAP in early December, 1995. Functional family-level diversity maps were completed by mid-December, 1995. Subsequent enhancements in early 1996 included development of linked taxonomic/geographic lists available from the map pages, replacement of a client key-entry search form with selection menus, addition of local family names and some family name 'translation' to the menus, development of county locator maps and county checklists from the 'table 2' page, inclusion of extracts from the hardcopy Atlas, and supplementary state maps. A functional array of pages was placed on the Center of the Study of Digital Libraries server in early March, 1996.

The system will continue to function as a 'test bed' for informatics research and change will occur through time. Future development will probably focus on systems that would allow dynamic development of base data (UARK), examination of the 'diversity mapping' approach for graphic display of variables beyond the taxonomic hierarchy (BONAP), enhanced search/query tools (Texas A&M), and integration of both local and standardized nomenclatural systems.


Created on: 03/1/96. Return to the 'about' page.