UNE herbarium records to join national online database

Monday, 12 November, 2012

An event at the University of New England (UNE) last month marked the beginning of a new era of research on the plants of north-eastern NSW and the UNE’s contribution to botany. It was the launch of database software that gives flexible online access to the huge collection of plant specimens in UNE’s N.C.W. Beadle Herbarium.

The Director of the herbarium, Professor Jeremy Bruhl, together with a team of volunteers, has been working on the database software with the e-research organisation Intersect Australia over the past 18 months.

Professor Bruhl explained that the herbarium contained well over 85,000 pressed and dried plant specimens - including the ‘type specimens’ that anchor the application of names as cited in the original publications. Some of the specimens in ‘Herbarium NE’ (the international code for the N.C.W. Beadle Herbarium) dated back as far as the 19th century, he said.

UNE’s herbarium, he continued, was one of the first in the world to begin the process of cataloguing its collection in a computer database - a process it began in about 1987.

With the establishment in 1999 of Australia’s Virtual Herbarium (AVH) as part of the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA), researchers had online access to data from Australia’s state and national herbaria. Recognising the significance of that innovation, UNE became a leader in the movement to include university-based herbaria in the AVH database - a movement that has borne fruit in Intersect projects at UNE, the University of Wollongong and Southern Cross University.

Professor Bruhl said that Herbarium NE records should be delivered within the next few weeks to AVH and ALA, and members of the public and researchers would be able to search for any genus or species of plant and look at the records or maps of distribution. They would also be able to filter the records to display just those from Herbarium NE, he said. Some background to the herbarium is available at www.une.edu.au/herbarium/, and those wishing to request access to the new NE database can do so at www.une.edu.au/herbarium/herbarium-ne-database/.

An important aspect of the N.C.W. Beadle Herbarium software is that staff members, students and colleagues collecting specimens for the herbarium or needing to lodge voucher specimens for their research can enter data from anywhere in the world that has an internet connection rather than from just one dedicated terminal at UNE. The software also ensures consistency of nomenclature and various other fields, thus enhancing the quality and integrity of the data. Users can search the database by using names of plants, names of collectors or other text strings, or by specifying such temporal or spatial parameters as collection dates or areas.

The software launch was the prelude to an e-research open day. Organised by Johan Boshoff, an e-research analyst from Intersect based at UNE, the Open Day introduced UNE researchers to the services that Intersect can offer them.

Dr Ian Gibson, CEO of Intersect, said that the aim of the not-for-profit company was “to build systems that lead to better research outcomes”.

“That’s why we’re so pleased to be part of the herbarium project,” he said.

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