08 December 2005

Herbaria using information systems to index and access plant biodiversity

At the recent Oxford conference on 'frontiers in forest information', participants heard how curators of herbaria are setting up information systems to provide better access to their collections. It was striking how similar the approaches and tools of this community are to those of librarians and information specialists who focus on more textual information. Many herbaria around the world have begun to use a database software for botanical research and herbarium management known as Botanical Research And Herbarium Management System (BRAHMS).

Developed by the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Oxford, BRAHMS combines regional herbarium datasets online, creating new opportunities for data sharing and extending access to high quality biodiversity data. Examples are the SEABCIN Project and the National Herbarium of the Netherlands which assemble data from the herbaria of South East Asia and the Netherlands respectively. The various databases can be searched online through one interface.

A herbarium houses a collection of pressed, dried plants. Using labels, specimens are indexed to indicate their common and Latin names, who collected them, where, when, and something of the collection site. As well as being the engine rooms for fundamental taxonomic and evolutionary study, herbaria are a key source of plant distribution data for conservation and biodiversity work.

This is part of a series of short stories highlighting forest information initiatives showcased in the Oxford Forest Information Service centenary meeting.




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