SITE VISIT: Field Data of Dreams

Science  21 May 1999:
Vol. 284, Issue 5418, pp. 1231
DOI: 10.1126/science.284.5418.1231d

The brown tree snake has nearly wiped out Guam's native birds, you may have heard, but did you know that this voracious invader has even tried to eat human babies? That gruesome fact comes from the National Biological Information Infrastructure (NBII), a U.S. Geological Survey project that calls itself “an electronic gateway to biological data and information” on species and ecosystems.

Intended for scientists and resource managers is the site's Metadata Clearinghouse, a catalog of data set descriptions that can be searched by subject or location. Typing in “bald eagle,” for example, brings up reports of bird disease outbreaks and data on eagle distributions. Roping in 500 reports from government agencies and a few other sources, such as the Nature Conservancy, the store of data so far seems thin. But NBII hopes to add many more partners, as well as mapping and statistics tools for analyzing the data online, says program manager Anne Frondorf. Another NBII project that it's hoped will be a big hit is a taxonomy database called ITIS, which serves up nomenclature agreed upon by experts.

The site points to lots of other Web resources, from vegetation-mapping software to educational sites sorted by grade level. NBII also has created two specialized sites of its own: FrogWeb, which tracks amphibian declines and deformities, and a site on the notorious brown tree snake, which has ecologists on many as-yet-untouched Pacific Islands shaking in their boots.

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