DATABASES: From Sea to Shining Sea

Science  22 Sep 2000:
Vol. 289, Issue 5487, pp. 1999
DOI: 10.1126/science.289.5487.1999a

When it comes to protecting rare species and habitats, biologists say the more data they have, the better. This week a conservation group boosted that cause by releasing a 25-year trove of field data on the plants and animals of the United States and Canada. The NatureServe database holds information on over 50,000 species, from humpback whale to eastern hemlock, including endangered status, distribution, life history, and references. “It's more complete than just about any other database of North American and Hawaiian species I'm aware of,” says ecologist Bruce Stein of the Association for Biodiversity Information, a spin-off of The Nature Conservancy. Stein expects users will range from ecologists to land managers to students who want to know, say, which fish are native to their state.

NatureServe is also billed as the first-ever database on North American ecological communities—some 5000 types. This fine-grained information describes such rare habitats as a kind of longleaf pine forest found only in South Carolina. Among other plans, Stein says county and watershed-level species maps will be added in the coming year.

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