Tuesday, August 2, 2005
World on Web; Database Holds Plants, Animals
By John Fleck
Journal Staff Writer
On the Web
Search New Mexico biology online at the Institute of Natural Resource Analysis and Management biodiversity database: biodiversity.inram.org
From his desktop computer in New Haven, Conn., it took biologist Stephen Smith just a mouse click and a few keystrokes to unearth a mother lode of honeysuckle.
Buried in the archives of four university research collections around New Mexico were 141 honeysuckles from nine species collected by scientists over the last five decades across the state.
For a scientist trying to understand genetic diversity and geographic distribution of the ubiquitous plant, it was a scientific gold mine.
That Smith, a Yale University graduate student, was able to so easily do it is the result of three years of effort by New Mexico scientists. Using federal funding, they developed a computerized database that currently lists some 350,000 bugs, animals and plants in collections around the state.
The result of the work is the Biodiversity Database of the Institute of Natural Resource Analysis and Management.
The samples, from pinned insects to pressed flowers to jarred fish, are warehoused at the universities, but finding one's way around them can be daunting.
Without the database, Smith would have had to contact each university separately and visit them, taking notes by hand on the plants in their collection.
"It would take a lot longer," Smith said.
Instead, he was able to quickly get information about where various kinds of honeysuckle had been found in New Mexico and plan a quick research trip through the state to collect samples for his research.
Connecting over the Internet, Smith (or anyone else) can easily search the entire collections of New Mexico State University, the University of New Mexico, Eastern New Mexico University and Western New Mexico University.
In addition to distant researchers, New Mexico scientists and schoolteachers will find the service valuable, said New Mexico State University biologist Brook Milligan, one of the scientists who lead the project.
The Institute is a partnership among New Mexico universities, according to Tim Lowrey, the biologist responsible for UNM's plant collection and one of the leaders of the statewide effort.
For three years, students have been painstakingly entering information on the collections into a computer, using a standardized data format that allows the New Mexico collections to be linked up with similar information from museums around the world, Lowrey said.