KNOXVILLE –- A large library of information about plants in the southeastern U.S. will one day be available on the Internet, thanks to a project involving the University of Tennessee.
The National Science Foundation has funded a five-year, $498,000 project to network 150 herbaria, or plant collections, from a 15-state area. The UT Herbarium, housed in the university’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, will lead the way in developing and testing protocols for linking data.
The project is part of a global effort to make biological information easily available for students, teachers and researchers. The participating herbaria house several million plant specimens that offer information about plant migrations and plant diseases, and scientists can use this information to understand how plants are distributed around the earth.
By networking the information from the various collections, the project will help conservation biologists identify areas that need to be conserved and areas where plants could be moved to appropriate habitats in response to climatic changes.
UT’s Office of Information Technology, through its SunSITE program, along with the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Biological Information Infrastructure, will build and maintain the online library and provide technical support to participating institutions. Faculty from UT’s Digital Library Center will serve as consultants.
Zack Murrell, professor at Appalachian State University and president of the Society of Herbarium Curators, will direct the project, officially dubbed the SouthEast Regional Network of Expertise and Collections (SERNEC).
UT’s nationally ranked vascular plant herbarium holds more than 300,000 specimens. Its Web site, located at http://tenn.bio.utk.edu, is visited by 1,500 people monthly. Photos and distribution maps for 6,700 Tennessee native plants are available at this site.
The UT SunSITE program, established in 1995, provides an infrastructure to develop new technologies that help meet the needs of the academic community. More information on SunSITE can be found at http://sunsite.utk.edu.
Herbaria in Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia are participating in SERNEC. In Tennessee, participating herbaria are located at UT, East Tennessee State University, Tennessee Tech University and UT-Chattanooga.
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