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KU Informatics


Welcome to Biodiversity Research Center Informatics!

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We enable knowledge discovery of earth's biological diversity through collaborative development of software for species data integration, synthesis and predictive modeling.

Who Are We?

The Biodiversity Research Center
Informatics group creates software
tools for the bioinformatics revolution.

The field of bioinformatics brings information-age concepts to the study of biological systems. Several high-profile research projects, such as the famous Human Genome Project, apply informatics techniques at the molecular level. Another branch of bioinformatics that is equally crucial but not as well known applies database and computer modeling technologies to the study of biodiversity and habitat. The BRC Informatics Group builds tools for biodiversity informatics. Our tools provide a standard format for collection data, offer an infrastructure for linking collections, and support predictive models for habitat expansion or destruction.

BRC Informatics is located in the north wing of historic Lewis L. Dyche Hall on the campus of the University of Kansas. Our full time staff consists of 15 technical professionals, including 11 professional software developers. We also employ several part time graduate and undergraduate students.

Because we specialize in tools for biodiversity informatics collaboration, our projects are highly collaborative. Several of our projects are co-funded, multi-year partnerships with other U.S. and international institutions. Our partners include the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, the San Diego Supercomputer Center, the U.S. Long-term Ecological Research Network, the Reference Center on Environmental Information (CRIA) in São Paulo, Brazil, and UC California Berkeley Museum of Vertebrate Zoology.

Why Are We?

For hundreds of years, explorers and scientists
have collected plant and animal specimens
from every region and habitat of the earth.

Millions of these specimens are preserved in the great natural history collections of the world, along with detailed notes and logs describing locations and collecting events. The collection data includes records spanning many decades showing where specific species of plants and animals lived, how they lived, and how they responded to changes in the environment. This vast global archive of collection data is a priceless source of information on the Earth’s biosystems; however, most collection data are cataloged without the aid of computers or through incompatible, roll-your-own data-management applications developed for individual museums. Scientists therefore must study each collection in isolation, without the aid of advanced modeling and data-management techniques for identifying patterns across multiple collections. In some cases, an individual collection may have only one or two specimens of a specific plant or animal—not enough for any meaningful predictions regarding the species. Other museums, however, may have hundreds of examples of this same plant or animal. Combining several collections into one study leads to more accurate conclusions, and, in some cases, it leads to new conclusions that otherwise would have been unobservable or statistically insignificant.

By linking the world’s natural history collections into a single virtual database, scientists build a better and deeper understanding of questions such as:

  • Where on the Earth are you most likely to find a certain species (for example, a species of hawk or an endangered wildflower)?
  • What climatic conditions are necessary for this species to thrive?
  • How will the range of this species be affected by changes to the environment, such as changes due to global warming?
  • What will happen if other competing species are introduced into the environment through human error or intervention?

BRC Informatics is dedicated to the task of moving natural history collection data from the gilded age to the information age. Along the way, we have developed programs and techniques that apply to all forms of habitat modeling, regardless of whether the supporting data originates from natural history collections.

Our Current Projects!

The BRC Informatics group is currently
working on the following projects:

  • Specify—a collection management application that provides a common user interface and data structure for natural history collections. Specify is currently used with 115 natural history collections around the world.
  • DiGIR—a set of tools and protocols for linking natural history collection databases into a single, searchable virtual collection. The global community of DiGIR networks provides scientists with access to data for over 10 million natural history specimens.
  • DesktopGARP—a tool that combines collection information with environmental data to determine the potential range of a species.
  • Lifemapper—an online mapping tool that takes data drawn from natural history museums around the world and generates species distribution maps.
  • SEEK—an advanced framework for modeling, mediating, and analyzing biological information.
  • HerpNET—an integrated network that merges collection data from 36 herpetology collections.
  • ORNIS—an integrated network that merges collection data from 29 ornithology collections.
  • Biological Terrorism Risk Assessment—an assessment of potential bioterrorism threats and their effects on human health.

Our tools form an integrated infrastructure that is available to other biodiversity informatics projects. For instance, DiGIR technology is integrated into several popular informatics tools, such as FishNET, MaNIS, and the Gobal Biodiversity Information Facility.

Created by admin
Last modified 2005-01-03 07:04 PM

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