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The MaNIS project: The Development and Applicability of a Mammal Collection Database Network

Abstracts for the MaNIS Workshop at the 83rd Annual Meeting
of the American Society of Mammalogists
Sunday, June 22, 2003, 1:00-3:30 p.m., Texas Tech University, Lubbock, TX

Abstract #1

MaNIS: It’s More Than Just a Pangolin.
Barbara R. Stein. Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720

Natural history collections are the authoritative source of knowledge about the identity, relationships, and properties of species with which we share this planet. As such, collections play a central and critical role in the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. The potential contribution of specimen data to systematic, genomic and ecological analyses is enormous, and orders of magnitude greater when information is made easily accessible via distributed networks than when stand-alone database systems are used. The Mammal Networked Information System (MaNIS) is a distributed database network and its development represents the first time that specimen data held in 17 of the largest North American mammal collections will be accessible together. The network will permit participating institutions to provide web-based global access to their collections data for research, education and informed decision making. The simplicity of the network’s design ensures that any institution wishing to join MaNIS at the completion of this project may do so at relatively little cost. A demonstration of the network will be combined with background about the project, its participants and collaborators, progress to date and its context within the larger realm of biodiversity informatics efforts, both nationally and internationally.

Abstract #2

Finding Your Place in a Distributed Database Initiative: Georeferencing.
Reed Beaman1 and John Wieczorek2. 1Peabody Museum of Natural History, Yale University, New Haven CT 06520 and 2Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720

The specimen collecting locality is a fundamental piece of information that is central to questions of systematics, ecology, biogeography, conservation biology, and even behavior. Georeferencing establishes quantitative spatial coordinates (e.g., latitude and longitude) for a locality. However, georeferenced localities are still relatively rare in natural history collection data. Most often, locality information is descriptive rather than numerical, and is not, therefore, conducive to effective filtering or spatial analysis. Four traditional obstacles to retrospectively georeferencing specimen localities are 1) a lack of appreciation for the value of these data, 2) the perception that data need to be “clean” before they can be georeferenced, 3) the lack of a standard methodology for georeferencing, and 4) the enormity of the task (i.e., the cost). Each of these topics will be addressed, with an overview of georeferencing methods, pros and cons of collaborative efforts, and demonstrations of tools for georeferencing calculations developed for MaNIS, and ongoing research in semi-automated georeferencing.

Abstract #3

The Use of GIS for Exploring Specimen Data: Many Opportunities and Some Problems.
Robert J. Hijmans. Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720

The MaNIS project will lead to an explosion of the availability of geo-referenced specimen data. The objective of this talk is to explore some of the ways in which these data could be used. Topics discussed include distribution mapping, mapping of traits, identifying gaps in collections, distribution modeling, and assessing biodiversity patterns. Spatial inaccuracy and spatial bias in the data can present problems that need to be addressed. Additional data and software tools for analyzing this type of data are discussed.

Abstract #4

Natural History Museum Collections of Mammals and Studies of the Geography of Ebola and Marburg Virus Epidemics.
A. Townsend Peterson1, Darin Carroll2 and James N. Mills2. 2Natural History Museum and Biodiversity Research Center, Univ. of Kansas, Lawrence, KS 66045 & 2Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA 30333

Natural history museum collections represent the basic ‘library of life’— the most complete documentation of biodiversity on the planet. Projects such as MaNIS offer the impressive opportunity of integrated and efficient access to this enormous resource, and will have far-reaching implications in enabling many applications in biology, biodiversity conservation, and other fields. This presentation addresses such implications for the field of public health and epidemiology. We summarize several research efforts aimed at development of rigorous and predictive approaches to (1) modeling the ecological niches of species, and (2) predicting their geographic potential under diverse circumstances (e.g., scenarios of invasion, climate change, etc.). These techniques have been, and are being, applied to several disease transmission systems involving mammals, including leishmaniasis, Chagas disease (American trypanosomiasis), and leprosy. A major challenge, however, is that of identifying a sylvatic reservoir of the virus family Filoviridae, which includes the infamous ebola and Marburg viruses. We present preliminary results of a three-stage attack on this question …. (1) We develop a continent-wide view of the ecology of filovirus outbreaks. (2) We review the mammal clades of mammals of Africa to identify 45 lineages that coincide geographically with filovirus outbreaks, and thus represent candidates for being the reservoir. (3) We use natural history museum resources worldwide to characterize the distribution of each of those candidate clades in ecological and geographic dimensions, with the aim of eliminating some clades and retaining others as high-probability candidates for being the filovirus reservoir. Although stage 3 is still very much in progress, examples are presented to illustrate the promise of this approach. More generally, this body of work—applying natural history museum mammal specimen data to important questions in public health and epidemiology related to the geography of disease transmission cycles—emphasizes the unique value of the museum specimen resource.

Abstract #5

MaNIS in a Box.
John Wieczorek1 and David Thau2. 1Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, University of California, Berkeley 94720 & 2Biodiversity Research Center, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS 66045

Development of the Mammal Networked Information System (MaNIS) addresses the need for natural history museums to come together to build and support a biodiversity informatics infrastructure in an open, collaborative manner that will aid research, education and conservation of the Earth’s biological resources. While seventeen institutions are taking part in the initial development of MaNIS, a stated objective of the project is to create a software protocol and network design that can be easily adopted by other mammal collections wishing to join MaNIS at the conclusion of this project. A prototype of a single software installation package that will allow institutions to connect to the MaNIS network without programming, and with little more expertise than is required to manage their existing databases, will be demonstrated. This will be accompanied by a summary of the curatorial steps preparatory to software installation. The simplicity of the MaNIS network design offers a low-cost opportunity for any institution to increase the visibility and use of its collections and is intended to meet the demands of a burgeoning community of prospective data providers.

John Wieczorek, 9 April 2003
Rev. 18 Mar 2004, JRW
University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720, Copyright © 2001, The Regents of the University of California.