New York, NY – May 7, 2013 The Global Plants Initiative (GPI), a collaboration of more than 270 herbaria in 70 countries, and JSTOR released “Global Plants,” a new community-contributed online database for scientific researchers, conservationists and others engaged in studying the world’s plant biodiversity.
Global Plants (plants.jstor.org) holds more than 1.8 million plant type specimens—the authoritative records for plant species that are catalogued in herbaria around the world—along with their scientific names and classifications. It also includes complementary material such as paintings, photographs and the correspondence of explorers who originally discovered and collected various species.
The effort to bring these materials online originated with a small group of herbaria, then called the African Plants Initiative (API). The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation provided funding to API to digitize African flora, specifically plant type specimens. The project grew to incorporate herbaria and plants from Latin America and, ultimately, became global in scale.
Today, GPI partner organizations from Argentina to Zimbabwe capture data and use digital technologies to create high resolution images of type specimens from their collections, as well as other types of content that are contributed to the database. JSTOR acts as their virtual hub, providing the production systems, support for digitizing the types and a platform for the discovery and use of the content by the partners’ own researchers as well as others at institutions throughout the world.
“GPI has galvanized the bioinformatics community, establishing an important precedent for global collaboration on a scale rarely seen in any academic discipline,” said Lauren Raz, Instituto de Ciencias Naturales, Universidad Nacional de Colombia.
With this large and growing virtual herbaria in place, scientists and students can explore plant life from local and global vantage points, often discovering plants or colleagues they would not have located previously.
“[Because of Global Plants], we have received many inquiries from scientists all over the world making our herbarium more visible to the botanical community and significantly increasing its value,” commented Laura Iharlegui of Curadora del Herbario (LP), Museo de La Plata in Argentina.
And then there are the possibilities of new discoveries. By building Global Plants together, scientists hope to identify new species, catalogue the destruction of species and better understand changes in ecosystems over time.
“Global Plants is a perfect example of the way in which previously collected information presented in a new format is stimulating research that might otherwise never be undertaken,” said Ken Cameron, a professor in the Department of Botany at University of Wisconsin, Madison.
Global Plants has been in development for many years, tripling in size, and is now transitioning from a grant-funded project to one that the GPI partners and JSTOR hope will be sustained by a growing network of institutions. The GPI partners will contribute financial support; JSTOR will provide infrastructure and other services; and educational, cultural and other not-for-profit research institutions will contribute annual fees for access to some parts of the database.
“Our partners have a vested interest in ensuring the GPI collaboration and database continue to thrive and grow,” stated Barbara M. Thiers, director, William and Lynda Steere Herbarium at the New York Botanical Garden. “It is a landmark project for science, and a great example of how the academic community can take advantage of technology to advance research.”
For more information on Global Plants: http://about.jstor.org/global-plants
For the complete press release: http://about.jstor.org/news/global-plants-initiative-and-jstor-release-online-database-study-plants