Friday, October 19, 2007

Biological and ecological data comes recommended

NatureServe Explorer was brought to my attention through a reference librarian journal, Reference & User Services Quarterly. According to the review,

With its colorful Web site and troves of animal, plants, and ecological data, NatureServe, a nonprofit conservation organization, is a superb resource for academics and members of the public.
From my experimentation with the Web site, I feel Eckerd students studying animals and plants from an environmental perspective will find this free site extremely helpful. The Online Encyclopedia of Life provides information on 70,000+ species of plants and animals. Information is not comprehensive for all entries, however many entries include conservation status, distribution, ecology & life history, and population delineation. Maps and images are also prevalent. For example, I decided to search for Roseate Spoonbill because I saw one on campus the other day. The search allows common or scientific names. As shown in the distribution map below, populations in Illinois (dark blue) are "presumed extirpated," in Florida (orange) are "imperiled," in Mississippi (red) are "critically imperiled," in Louisiana (yellow) are "vulnerable," and in Texas (green) are "apparently secure."

Ridgely, R.S., T.F. Allnutt, T. Brooks, D.K. McNicol, D.W. Mehlman, B.E. Young, and J.R. Zook. 2003. Digital Distribution Maps of the Birds of the Western Hemisphere, version 1.0. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia, USA.

You can also search by ecological systems as defined by ECOLOGICAL SYSTEMS OF THE UNITED STATES: A WORKING CLASSIFICATION OF U.S. TERRESTRIAL SYSTEMS . I found this search more difficult to use, but the option to search by state was effective. In this manner, I was able to access data about the ecosystem "Southwest Florida Dune and Coastal Grassland." I learned the vegetation distinctive to this area, as well its lack of distinctive animal species.

It is important to choose "New Search" even if you have moved from one search tab to another. Otherwise the parameters of your first search seem to remain.

A second component for this product is InfoNatura, which provides information on birds, mammals, and amphibians in Latin America. My first search was for Galapagos Sealion, since I had a student Meebo me a question on these mammals a few days ago. I was curious to see how much this might have helped the student. I was disappointed to find the information on this animal very limited. On subsequent searches within InfoNatura, I found some species with more data, but overall this aspect of the database seemed less extensive than what is available for North America and Canada.

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