What's New

INRAM Consortium Creates Biodiversity Electronic Database

Contact: Brook Milligan
3 June 2005

The New Mexico Institute of Natural Resource Analysis (INRAM) and Management Biodiversity Program, a consortium of the four New Mexico universities housing major natural history museum collections of New Mexico flora and fauna, has created the New Mexico Biodiversity Electronic Database and made it available on the internet at: http://biodiversity.inram.org

A major goal of the INRAM Biodiversity Program is to make information about New Mexico's biodiversity readily available to the general, professional and scientific public throughout the world. Funded by the National Science Foundation since 2002, INRAM Biodiversity has constructed the database of natural history specimen information from the collections of the consortium partners. The database contains information on more than 300,000 specimens from 25 collections held by the consortium.

"The natural history database of New Mexico plants and animals now ranks among the best in the world and has the capability to add other groups of organisms as the information becomes available", says Dr. Tim Lowrey, Director, NM INRAM Biodiversity Program, University of New Mexico.

The database took three years of collaborative effort by faculty, staff members and students at the participating institutions. At New Mexico State University, which houses the database itself, development work largely involved members of the Department of Biology. In addition, the Center for Natural History Collections, which unifies 13 distinct museum collections from around NMSU, is heavily involved with the data entry. Other participating institutions throughout New Mexico include the Museum of Southwestern Biology (MSB) at the University of New Mexico (UNM), the Natural History Collection at Eastern New Mexico University (ENMU), and the Gila Center for Natural History at Western New Mexico University (WNMU).

The INRAM Biodiversity project was conceived and directed by Dr. Tim Lowrey, Department of Biology, University of New Mexico. Dr. Brook Milligan, Department of Biology, New Mexico State University, developed and implemented the database model and software in collaboration with Chris Frazier, INRAM Biodiversity Program Manager at UNM.

The database integrates plant and animal information into an easily searchable format. A user anywhere in the world can easily obtain information on the occurrence of particular species in New Mexico, collection dates, habitat information and county-level maps of species distributions. The completion of the database is of major importance to land managers, governmental agencies, researchers, private industry and agriculture. New Mexico is enormously rich in biodiversity.

Among U.S. states, New Mexico has the 4th highest diversity of plants, 3rd highest diversity of mammals and reptiles, and the 2nd highest diversity of birds. The arthropod fauna is similarly diverse, but very poorly understood. A new source of biodiversity with mostly negative impacts is the tremendous influx of non-native species into New Mexico. 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, fishes and birds.

In addition to the online integrated database, Frazier also developed a computer software program for individual collections to use as a museum Information Management System, which is optimized for rapid, accurate and complete data entry. Called "Maii'tsoh," the Dine' word for wolf, it is now being used by collections at UNM, WNMU and NMSU to enter and manage their specimen data. It also has features to support museum tasks such as creating specimen labels and keeping track of loans.

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 were involved during the last two years; countless participants preceded them. Supported graduate students came from the Biology, Computer Sciences, and Electrical Engineering Departments; undergraduate students came from both the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Agriculture and Home Economics.

The New Mexico Biodiversity Electronic Database is one of only a few electronic databases in the world that contains plant and animal specimen information. It is dynamic with new specimen information being added on a regular basis. INRAM provides information for the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) based in Copenhagen, Denmark and is currently among the top biodiversity information providers in the world. Currently the INRAM database is ranked 31 among the GBIF data providers, immediately behind the California Academy of Sciences, an internationally renowned institution founded over 150 years ago. Only 10 other US institutions are ranked higer among the GBIF providers. Comparing favorably with such premier institutions as the Missouri Botanical Garden, the Field Museum, and the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard demonstrates clearly the significance of the INRAM achievement.

CNHC Executive Committee Formed

At the general meeting of the CNHC on January 9, 2006, the membership agreed to form an Executive Committee, which will develop goals and duties of a Director for the organization and identify the person who will assume the directorship. The Executive Committee is made up of the curators of the natural history collections and INRAM database on campus. These are:

  • Rani Alexander
  • Donovan Bailey
  • Rebecca Creamer
  • Jennifer Frey
  • Peter Houde
  • Dan Howard
  • Greg Mack
  • Brook Milligan
  • David Richman
  • Ed Staski

Richard Spellenberg chosen as Director of CNHC

The CNHC Executive Committee met in February and selected Dr. Richard Spellenberg as our first Director. He has agreed to serve for one year, beginning on April 1, 2006. Dr. Spellenberg is a distinguished botanist and retired Professor of Biology, who was also Curator of the Department of Biology Herbarium. His mission will be to make the CNHC more visible, help develop organizational documents, and to aid in finding a successor when he leaves this position. He will represent the CNHC at the national meeting of the Natural Science Collections Alliance in Albuquerque in May 2006.

New CNHC Brochure Available

The Executive Committee of the CNHC has approved a new brochure designed by the Brochure Subcommittee for the purpose of informing the public, the university community, other institutions and potential donors of our activities and goals.

The CNHC joins COPUS

The Center for Natural History Collections has joined COPUS (Coalition on the Public Understanding of Science). We will be taking part in their 2009 Year of Science, celebrating the 200th birthdays of both Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln (both were born February 12, 1809). Darwin is known for the Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection and Lincoln established both the National Academy of Sciences and the Land Grant System. Several other anniversaries are also being celebrated, ranging from Kepler's Laws and the invention of the telescope to the discovery of the Burgess Shales in Canada. We hope to cooperate with several other campus departments and perhaps other organizations in emphasizing science through the year.

NMSU is named Regional Hub for The Year of Science

NMSU has been named Regional Hub for the Year of Science by COPUS. The two participating units at NMSU are the Center for Natural History Collections and the Department of Entomology, Plant Pathology and Weed Science. We are setting up a schedule of events which will be posted soon on this site and on the COPUS site.