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INRAM biodiversity database is now online

Preparing scientific research on the biodiversity of New Mexico ? Interested in how the wind and humidity patterns are affecting trees all over the state? Or just puzzled by the various plants beyond your door?

You may find all the information you need in a new online database at http://biodiversity.inram.org.

Developed with funding from the National Science Foundation, the database covers the diversity of biological organisms in our state and the environments in which they live. It is one of the fruits of collaboration among six New Mexico universities in the Institute for Natural Resource Analysis and Management (INRAM; http://www.inram.org), said Vince Gutschick, a professor of biology at New Mexico State University and director of INRAM.

New Mexico is enormously rich in biodiversity. Among the states, it has the fourth highest diversity of plants, the third highest in mammals and reptiles and the second highest in birds. The online database provides desktop computer access for anyone to obtain information about indigenous and invasive plants, mammals, reptiles and amphibians, insects, spiders and mites, fish and birds. Information includes maps of locations where specimens were collected and maps of climate, soils, vegetation and more. New search capabilities, including by spatial patterns, are in constant development.

The biodiversity database is important because it can be used by so many different entities. It has applications for land managers, governmental agencies, researchers, private industry and agriculture. For instance, land managers and forest service personnel can use it when they plan applications and activities, Gutschick said.

New Mexico State University biology professor Brook Milligan, along with Tim Lowrey of the University of New Mexico 's biology department, created the project. Milligan helped develop the database and software working in collaboration with Chris Frazier, also of UNM. The project took three years of collaborative effort by faculty, staff and students at NMSU, UNM, and Eastern and Western New Mexico Universities . NMSU's Department of Biology was heavily involved in the database development.

In addition, the Center of Natural History Collections , which unifies 13 distinct museum collections from around NMSU, is involved with the data entry. The result is a database housing information on more than 300,000 specimens from 25 major collections at the four universities. For some collections, this culminates over a decade of labor-intensive data entry work. At NMSU alone, four faculty members, three professional staff, six graduate students and four undergraduates worked on the project during the last two years, according to Milligan.

The goal is to have all the specimens from participating universities databased for easy access to the general, professional and scientific public throughout the world. It also is an infrastructure project that will make it easier for New Mexico institutions to gain federal grants.

All museums have control of their own data, but they make it available to NMSU at the central server. With the central server, INRAM expects to add more data that will enhance the ability to explore issues of concern with respect to NM biodiversity.

INRAM provides information for the Global Biodiversity Information Facility based in Denmark and is among the top biodiversity information providers in the world, comparing favorably with the Missouri Botanical Garden, the Field Museum, and the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard.