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HerpNET:A new tool for the study and conservation of biodiversity


  1. A Community Solution
  2. Why HerpNET?
  3. Timeline of Participating Insitutions
  4. One of the grand challenges for the 21st century is to harness knowledge of Earth's biological diversity and how this diversity shapes the global environmental systems on which all of life depends. This knowledge is critical to science and society for managing natural resources, sustaining human health, maintaining economic stability, and improving the quality of human life. The urgency for this knowledge increases daily as the conversion of natural systems to human-managed systems accelerates the decline of biological diversity.

    Approximately 1.8 million species are known as a result of 300 years of the biological exploration of the planet. Another 15- 50 million species await discovery. Documenting these species of animals and plants are about 3 billion specimens and associated research data amassed in the world’s natural history museums. The specimen data include observational and experimental numeric data, text, images, sound and video. These specimens and especially their associated biotic data provide the raw research material for studies of the global composition, identity, spatial distribution, ecology, systematics, and history of the 1.8 million species. Together, the world’s biocollections and associated data are a library of life, the sine qua non of our invaluable, irreplaceable knowledge commodity of the world’s biotas.

    However, our ability to engage this biodiversity information in automated systems for science and society has been severely limited. Until recently, the collections lacked a common database architecture and maintenance process, which hindered the discovery and integration of data for research and education. But in the past two years a number of projects funded by NSF and other agencies (KDI–Knowledge Networking of Biodiversity Information; MaNIS; FISHNET) are establishing distributed Internet-based information systems for accessing, integrating, and conducting predictive modeling on specimen-based biodiversity information.

    An estimated 4.7 million herpetological specimens are housed in North American biocollections of which 90% are databased on about 18 different software platforms. Currently, it is impossible to access, retrieve, and integrate data from across these collections for biodiversity. A third of North American herpetological specimens and their data are housed in small collections and frequently overlooked. AmphibiaWeb’s interface, an amphibian diversity database, provides limited access to a few collections, but most data from herpetological collections are not available to the research or educational communities in digital or interoperable format.

    A series of landmark reports by national and international agencies has already established the rationale that HerpNET, MaNIS and their kin are fundamental to national and global biodiversity research, education and solutions. In fact, the Access America report (Gore, 1997) of the National Performance Review endorsed the creation of "an electronic national natural history museum" and a "cooperative effort to create a distributed electronic database on the biological diversity of the U.S. as represented in our natural history museum collections."

    The Community Solution

    The mission of the HerpNET project is to bring 300 years of accumulated knowledge of the diversity of amphibians and reptiles on Earth into currency for science and society. Addressing this challenge involves three thrust areas:

    1. Advancing technology by deploying a standards-based informatics and collaboration architecture.
    2. Enabling collaborative research by using the technology and collaboration framework to develop and deploy HerpNET, a powerful distributed community information network. Collaboration will allow studies of magnitude and impact that was not previously possible.
    3. Fostering the education of the next generation of biodiversity informatics scientists, and providing the public with the results of knowledge networking of herpetological biodiversity information. It will bring together promising young scientists at 36 institutions and offer them the opportunity for cross training in information technology, biocollections and biodiversity science, and environmental issues in their broadest context.

    When complete, HerpNET will provide people worldwide with ready access to information about international herpetological holdings in North American institutions, essentially repatriating these data to their source countries. The global informatics community will share the data, data standards, installation and management software, and documentation developed for HerpNET for further research and applications.

    Why HerpNET and why now?

    Amphibians and reptiles are the environment’s canaries in the coal mine.—Amphibians and reptiles are large, diverse, and ubiquitous vertebrate groups containing about 15,710 described species. They represent nearly 55% of all tetrapods and 25% of all vertebrates, and occur globally in marine and freshwater habitats and on all landmasses except Antarctica. Because most amphibians are closely tied to water as adults and larvae, they are especially sensitive indicators of environmental quality and change. Hence, the declines of many amphibian populations and outright disappearance of others around the world are of urgent concern (Houlahan et al., 2000).

    The possible biological consequences are significant. Both groups are critical members of community ecosystems and their presence or absence will affect other members of communities, including humans. Because they are popular laboratory animals and household pets, many amphibians and reptiles have been introduced in areas where they do not occur naturally, with some alarming consequences. For example, the African clawed frog (Xenopus laevis; native to sub-Saharan Africa) now has established populations in the eastern and western U.S.; they have decimated populations of game fish and native amphibians by feeding on their eggs (Schwabe 1991, in litt).

    List of Participating Institutions

    Code

    Institution

    Year 1

    Year 2

    Year 3

    Year 4

    Year 5

    Total Holdings

    ANSP

    Acad. Nat. Sci, Phil.

    36,000

    AUM

    Auburn U. Mus.

    51,000

    BPBM

    Bernice P. Bishop Mus.

    29,900

    BYU

    Brigham Young U.

    34,500

    CAS

    California Acad. Sci.

    272,704

    CM

    Carnegie Museum

    197,918

    UPS

    U. Puget Sound, Mus.

    7,538

    CU

    Cornell Univ. Mus.

    65,000

    FMNH

    Field Museum

    270,000

    INHS

    Illinois Nat. Hist. Surv.

    112,558

    JFBM

    Bell Mus., Univ. Minn.

    15,436

    KU

    U. Kansas N.H. Mus.

    290,000

    LACM

    Nat..Hist. Mus. L.A. Co

    200,000

    LSUMZ

    Louisiana St. U. Mus.

    82,286

    MCZ

    MCZ., Harvard U.

    335,000

    MPM

    Milwaukee Pub. Mus.

    29,000

    MSB

    Mus. U. New Mexico

    80,000

    MVZ

    MVZ., UC-Berkeley

    232,447

    RMMU

    Redpath Mus., McGill

    7,227

    ROM

    Royal Ontario Mus.

    47,000

    SDSNH

    San Diego N.H. Mus.

    68,751

    TCWC

    Texas A&M Univ.

    84,000

    TNHC

    Univ. Texas, Austin

    60,000

    UAMZ

    Univ. Alberta Museum

    3,987

    UAZ

    Univ. of Arizona

    53,209

    UCM

    Univ. Colorado, Mus.

    61,100

    UF

    Univ. Florida

    160,000

    UGAMNH

    Univ. Georgia, Mus..

    46,763

    UN

    Univ. Nebraska Mus.

    18,686

    UNAM

    U. Nac. Aut. Mexico

    21,000

    UNR

    Univ. Nevada-Reno

    6,500

    UOMZ

    Univ. Oklahoma Mus.

    42,000

    USNM

    U.S. National Museum

    541,000

    UTA

    Univ. Texas, Arlington

    105,000

    UTEP

    Univ. Texas, El Paso

    19,500

    YPM

    Peabody Mus., Yale

    17,100

    SUM OF ALL HOLDINGS:

    3,704,110