About CyberFlora Louisiana

a Virtual Herbarium for the State

Herbarium Specimen Image     Louisiana has one of the richest floras in North America with both temperate and subtropical elements, influences from both the mesic eastern and xeric western floras, and an especially broad array of wetland communities. Clair Brown noted “Six inches of difference in elevation are more significant in changing the plant communities in Louisiana than 100 feet in the mountains.” In formal terms, Louisiana contains significant portions of five ecoregions as defined by the Nature Conservancy. It also contained significant portions of the historical Coastal Prairie that once consisted of 9 million acres in Texas and Louisiana. Today, less than 100 acres of Cajun Prairie remnants remain in Louisiana but preservation and restoration is a high priority for the associated 1,000+ plant species, many of which are rare, threatened, or endangered. Longleaf pine savannas, once extending over 4 million acres in Louisiana, have been reduced to 10% of their historic range. Having among the greatest plant diversity of any habitat, the remnants are also a major target for conservation efforts. Coastal wetlands and cypress-tupelo swamps are of critical importance for coastal restoration efforts. Despite this magnificent diversity, the plants of Louisiana are less well studied than many other regions and therefore seem less well known in the botanical community, especially since there is no formal flora for the state yet.

     In order to bring greater attention and value to the botanical resources available in Louisiana, curators from most of the 15 herbaria in the state met in 2006 to form a consortium of all Louisiana herbaria. By working together towards a goal of enhanced accessibility, all the herbaria would be able to contribute to a unified virtual herbarium for the state, resulting in many emergent properties from such a combined resource. Information from natural history collections with robust geo-referencing can provide invaluable details about patterns of species richness, historical patterns in biogeography, and management strategies for conservation biologists. All this information also will be of crucial importance in analyzing responses to global climate change, wetland loss, natural disasters, etc. Furthermore, rapidly developing techniques in molecular biology will allow much more widespread DNA characterization to contribute to taxonomic and phylogenetic corroboration of specimen identifications. Thus, information in Louisiana herbaria can become of greater value and relevance to a wider range of faculty and students, touching on areas such as ecology, biogeography, conservation, molecular genetics, etc. This is especially important for the smaller herbaria that are less well known and often under-utilized. It is also crucial for preventing herbaria from becoming neglected, orphaned, or lost.

With more than 1.1 million specimens in Louisiana’s herbaria, there are many challenges to imaging and databasing the entire consortium efficiently, economically, and quickly. Furthermore, the group desired to create not only a virtual herbarium for the state but also a network of expertise that included other state botanists and a central web portal of botanical resources for the general public. Accordingly, we proposed creating CyberFlora Louisiana as a framework for these goals.

Primary Goals

  • Image Louisiana’s herbarium specimens.
  • Populate electronic databases by digitizing collection labels.
  • Geo-reference collection locations.
  • Develop a live plant image collection.
  • Develop a searchable website that integrates all this information.

Partner

SilverBiology, LLCWe are using SilverImage software for capturing images, HelpingScience.org to process herbarium sheet data, and SilverCollection as our website portals.


Support

"CyberFlora Louisiana" (2009-2012). National Science Foundation: Biological Resource Collections. Principal Investigators:

    • Thomas Sasek, University of Louisiana at Monroe.
    • Lowell Urbatsch, Louisiana State University.
    • Steven Darwin, Tulane University.
    • Rick Miller, Southeastern Louisiana University.
    • Alex Lasseigne, Nicholls State University.

"CyberFlora Louisiana Outreach" (2009-2011). Louisiana Board of Regents: Enhancement Program. Principal Investigators:

    • Thomas Sasek, Dennis Bell, and Joydeep Bhattacharjee, University of Louisiana at Monroe.
Comments
NSF Review Panel, November, 2008 “This project can become one of only a few truly productive single-state herbaria collaboratives with tangible outputs in terms of getting actual data online together. It approaches the concept of the virtual herbarium differently than in most analogous projects, in that the imaging occurs first and substantially automated data capture follows from the images. Thus it substantially alters the model for creation of a virtual herbarium. The fact that the specimens from the majority of the state's herbaria will all be imaged, referenced, and databased using the same techniques and software is another plus.”
Congressman Rodney Alexander, March 5, 2009 "I applaud ULM for being a pioneer in the online collection of plant information," said Alexander, R-Quitman. "I am confident that this project will help increase the awareness of plants indigenous to our state, and the importance of their conservation."