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News From MO: 2000

Research Computing

Botanical Database

TROPICOS, the botanical database at the Garden, is a continuously growing and changing resource. The accumulated information on over 860,000 plant names and 1.5 million herbarium specimens was developed through the actions of a wide variety of floristic, nomenclatural, and bibliographic projects both at the Garden and in collaboration with other institutions. This wealth of information is available on the Internet through w³TROPICOS at the Garden's web site (http://www.mobot.org). The w³TROPICOS site provides access to the vascular plant and bryophyte nomenclatural databases, which also include links to related flora and checklist projects, specimen, type, and chromosome data, habit and specimen images, and distribution maps based on available specimens. w³TROPICOS also provides access to the bibliographic database that contains over 80,000 titles. These references provide the literature references used within the other databases and can now be accessed by author or keyword. A few publications are being used to provide images of rare botanical works. The prototype provides images of each page of the work and access to the place of publication for the name records published in the work. Direct web access to the specimen database is also possible. Individual specimens can be selected by collector and number or can be displayed from a list of specimens for a country or collection number range. In addition to the usual specimen label information, the specimen display includes a history of determinations for the specimen, thus providing a quick way to check for changes in identification or updates for specimens sent for determination.

A redevelopment project is underway to create TROPICOS II, the next generation of the TROPICOS database. The most exciting development is the transfer of TROPICOS data to INFORMIX relational tables. We have begun developing output options and defining the next phase of the project. At this time we are testing web access to the tables through both structured form queries and "write your own" SQL (Structured Query Language) access. The new system is also designed to allow automated queries with XML (Extensible Markup Language) or other formatted output. The next phase, providing input and output functionality to TROPICOS II for all projects and authority file maintenance is underway.

Research Web Group

In 1998 a large-scale effort was launched to create digital images of herbarium specimens, slide collections, live material, and taxonomically valuable illustrations in rare books, with financial support from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. This program is designed to integrate various data types, such as images of specimens and illustrations, with TROPICOS data. To date, the slide collection of the late Alwyn Gentry has been digitized, and staff from the web group are working on the slides of Thomas Croat and Calaway Dodson. Type specimens are being imaged in the MrSID (Multi-Resolution Seamless Image Database) format, which allows viewers to zoom in for greater detail than is possible in conventional web formats. Kristin Pierce works with type specimens, verifying their status as types and entering exsiccatae and flora image data to prepare the specimens for imaging. Maria Becker enters exsiccatae records for slide collections. As of September 2000, 4,195 types have been imaged, 40% of them in the MrSID format. There are 1,430 images of illustrations and 6,485 images of slides and other live plant images. In all, 12,110 digitized images are available for viewing on the Garden's research web site. The TROPICOS Image Index can be viewed on the Garden's web site.

The web group is headed by Chris Freeland. Beth Owen, Web Content Developer, works with staff to create new material for the web site. Myriam Fica, Information Systems Technician, continues to provide support for research projects and system users. Leslie Miller is the Graphics Technician for Web projects. She is assisted by Fred Keusenkothen, Imaging Technician, and interns Debbie Windus and Wendy Westmoreland. For more information about the research web site, contact the web group at webmaster@mobot.org. The group has put its equipment specifications online at http://www.mobot.org/mobot/imls/ to assist other groups or organizations that are working on or considering digital imaging projects.

Geographic Information Systems

To further the development of Geographic Information Systems (GIS), the research division in 1998 acquired a large CalComp digitizing table and a large-format Hewlett-Packard color plotter. Environmental Systems Research, Inc. (ESRI) donated their ArcView 3.2 GIS mapping software, which will be used for mapping and spatial analysis of botanical information. MO staff and graduate students will use these devices in the conduct of their research; mapping software will be used dynamically with data from w³TROPICOS to generate distribution maps on the World Wide Web. These will be publicly available over the Internet. This year Trish Consiglio, a GIS analyst who previously had worked at the Center for Plant Conservation, joined the research staff to set up and direct an in-house GIS training lab in the Monsanto Center, third floor. She will work with staff to incorporate GIS research components in future botanical studies and create an in-house dynamic link to the TROPICOS database to generate distribution maps. GIS capabilities will provide interactive mapping options for end users and worldwide access to the wealth of botanical information in TROPICOS.

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