CyberFlora Louisiana project receives additional funding

April 18th, 2009

Dr. Thomas Sasek and ULM colleagues Dr. Joydeep Bhattacharjee and Dennis Bell have received an enhancement grant from the Louisiana Board of Regents to support the educational outreach objectives outlined in the original NSF CyberFlora Louisiana grant. The one-year budget is for $56,000. These educational outreach activities will provide valuable enhancement to ULM undergraduate students studying plant-related topics and to citizens throughout the state who will have access to online resources developed during project.

The goals of this proposal include 1) Accelerating development of a live plants image database by acquiring digital SLR cameras for students to use in various plant-related courses at ULM. Some courses would emphasize images of comparisons of morphological features while others would emphasize images captured in the field. 2) Learning to prepare and present visual identification keys and fact sheets about plants using software templates and guided interfaces. 3) Create a virtual reality display for the public area of the ULM Museum of Natural History by creating onscreen rotatable object movies and panoramas.

A virtual collection of plant information for the state could increase interest in plant sciences, leading to a greater appreciation of the importance of plants and their conservation. For schools, museums, wildlife refuges, and parks, the availability of images, keys, and useful information will also stimulate more interest in plants and their conservation.

Herbarium Curators Workshop

April 18th, 2009

The CyberFlora Louisiana project was highlighted at the Herbarium Curators workshop sponsored by SERNEC at the annual meeting of the Association of Southeastern Biologists in Birmingham, AL (April 4th, 2009). Tom Sasek, curator of the ULM Herbarium, described the early planning stages of the project and discussed funding strategies with other networks considering grant proposals in the Southeast. The workshop also provided valuable information about incorporating live plant images in state web portals, development of interactive keys, and an update on the new version of Specify 6 database.

Cyberflora Louisiana

March 13th, 2009

The Cyberflora Louisiana project is now underway.

The National Science Foundation announced a total award of almost $500,000 to the University of Louisiana at Monroe for a three-year project that will digitize the images and data of more than one million plant specimens in 15 Louisiana herbaria.

The project, “CyberFlora Louisiana,” is one of the first statewide projects of its kind and will serve as a model for other state networks.

New software and cutting-edge technology has opened up the possibility of collecting the information, and includes plans to develop an electronic statewide database featuring all of the 1.1-million plant specimens in Louisiana, of which 475,000 are housed at the ULM Museum of Natural History.

“Certainly our primary focus in developing a statewide database was for the scientific community,” said Sasek. “But we would also like to encourage teachers and their students to utilize the database as an educational tool.”

The digitized images and data will be freely available through a central website that, once completed, will offer fast data sorting and filtering, rapid delivery of images, mapping of specimen locations, and checklists of plants for particular locations, said Sasek.

The website will also feature digital images of live plants, plant parts, and identifying features for species found in Louisiana, according to Sasek, who added that visual identification keys will be developed to aid the general public unfamiliar with scientific terminology.

U.S. Congressman Rodney Alexander of Louisiana’s fifth district was quick to praise the project’s value.

“I applaud ULM for being a pioneer in the online collection of plant information,” said Alexander. “I am confident that this project will help increase the awareness of plants indigenous to our state, and the importance of their conservation.”