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The shape of things to come: Morphology database going global

A Florida State University researcher who specializes in the evolutionary history of wasps is now creating a buzz about a new way for scientists to store, share and study plant and animal images.

Fredrik Ronquist, a professor in the School of Computational Sciences, is one of the founders of MorphBank, an international Web database that contains thousands of high-resolution photographs and other images of plant and animal specimens. Now he is leading an interdisciplinary team of FSU scientists to expand the database, thanks to a $2.25 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

"It used to be that there was a limited body of knowledge of plant and animal specimens - a scientist could read all the books and papers," Ronquist said. "Now, our body of knowledge is so vast, we need the help of machines."

Researchers from across the globe can deposit images documenting animal or plant specimens in MorphBank and retrieve images deposited by their colleagues. The NSF grant will allow the FSU team to develop commercial quality software to make the system more user friendly and offer more advanced search techniques, according to project manager David Gaitros of the computer science department. Scientists also will be able to add comments to the images and search comments made by other scientists - a quick and efficient way to communicate research results.

"We're hoping to achieve a change in the way scientists work when they do research," Ronquist said. "That's one of the biggest challenges - changing habits. We need to convince scientists that this is a better way of working with their material and presenting their research. It's a matter of having a system that works well with lots of interesting images. That will go a long way to change people's attitudes."

Because journals often do not publish all the images that illustrate an article, researchers now must go to a museum or depository to view the specimens or arrange for a lo
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Source:Florida State University


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