DATABASES: Mapping Israel's Biodiversity

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Science  26 Jan 2001:
Vol. 291, Issue 5504, pp. 559
DOI: 10.1126/science.291.5504.559d

The trove of natural history data hidden in museum collections and field biologists' notebooks is getting new exposure on the Web. One site being developed at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel, for instance, showcases the promise of creating geographic information systems (GISs) that can transform raw observations into user-friendly maps that detail where plants and animals live.

BioGIS is aimed at helping preserve the biodiversity of Israel, where the meeting of Mediterranean and desert climates has resulted in an unusually rich flora and fauna. So far, the site contains plants and snails from five specimen and observation databases. Visitors can click on a species and pull up all its records, then plot them on a map. The site's map tool can be used to zoom in on any point in Israel and pull up data on specimens and ecological conditions. And visitors can create potential distribution ranges—maps that show where a plant or animal may be found, or could be introduced—using a bioclimatic model based on temperature, rainfall, soil, and other requirements. The Israeli researchers aren't the only team working on this kind of Web tool, says Hebrew University ecologist Ronen Kadmon, but BioGIS has many GIS features that are “unique.”

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