The Mammal Networked Information System

Summary of the MaNIS Meeting
American Society of Mammalogists
Humboldt State University, Arcata, CA, June 13, 2004

As always, the MaNIS meeting at ASM provided an opportunity to update participants on the status of the project, demonstrate new tools and initiate dialog on topics of import.

Validation of the georeferenced locality files that have been received is nearly complete and John will return coordinate data to the participant databases, re-associated with the specimen records from which they were taken, beginning July 1. Georeferenced files that have not yet been sent to MVZ for validation, or that are found to be misssing critical data, will be returned at a later date in a second repatriation when all remaining problems have been resolved. It has been deemed essential to get the repatriation under way now so that there is ample time to address any technical concerns before the end of the project. As previously promised, the returned files will be accompanied by instructions for successful entry into your databases.

In addition to the georeferencing data fields with which the participants are now familiar, each returned file will contain two additional fields, GeoreferencingMethod and GeorefVerificationStatus. All localities properly georeferenced in conjunction with the MaNIS project will have a GeoreferencingMethod = “MaNIS georeferencing guidelines; MaNIS validation”. This will differentiate them from localities that may have been referenced using the MaNIS guidelines, but without 100% compliance with the metadata standards (missing extents, for example). Similarly, all project localities will have a GeorefVerificationStatus = “not verified”. This indicates that the specimens themselves and their associated data have not been checked against the locality data and pronounced correct by the original collector, the holding institution, or a taxonomic expert. The highest achievable verification status for a georeference will be "collector-verified," indicating that a) the specimen(s) associated with the georeferenced locality were indeed collected within the circle with its center at the given coordinates and its radius equal to the MaximumUncertaintyDistance, and that b) the radius is as small as can be reasonably determined.

John also offered to assist participants in creating structures in their databases to hold the new georeferenced data. However, participants themselves will be solely responsible for making any commensurate changes to their database interfaces. Those institutions wishing assistance from John on backend database changes were asked to let him know as soon as possible.

Prior to the end of the grant period, a document describing the process by which specimens were validated will be posted on the MaNIS website. It is hoped that this methodology will be widely adopted by other disciplines, similar to the manner in which our georeferencing guidelines have been widely adopted.

MaNIS listserv and web site
All participants are well aware of the many networks similar to MaNIS that have recently been initiated (e.g., GBIF, HerpNet, ORNIS). John pointed out that these other efforts will be developing new tool sets that will be of interest and value to MaNIS participants (e.g., automated georeferencing and validation tools). We will add these tools to the MaNIS web site, or post links to them on our site, as they become available and use the MaNIS listserv to keep participants apprised of these developments, even after the official end of the grant period.

Adding a new participant to the MaNIS network
Much to Barbara’s chagrin, joining the MaNIS network will not be as technically simple as we had hoped it would be - some IT expertise will be required. This is largely the result of the plethora of pre-existing network and server conditions, the nuances of which are difficult to predict. A "clean" installation on a machine dedicated solely to providing data to MaNIS requires the following:

More expertise may be required to fit a MaNIS data provider into an existing server. John noted that strictly IT personnel often do not have the scientific expertise to complete the process of mapping MaNIS concepts to database fields, or to make correct data transoformations, so that cooperation between curatorial and IT staff is likely to be required during the installation procedure.

In anticipation of other institutions joining MaNIS, a new link has been added to the foot of the MaNIS home page. The “Join MaNIS” link currently takes you to a short page explaining that those wishing to join the network must first register to do so. The page also provides a link to the GBIF web site where detailed registration instructions can be found.

In the interests of time, and with a desire to stave off boredom on the part of meeting attendees, John made several preparations for connecting the University of Minnesota Bell Museum collection to the MaNIS network prior to our meeting. He then quickly presented an overview of the various steps required to complete the process, and showed how quickly an institution appeared on the network once it had been configured and registered.

Data Sharing Policy
Following the demonstration was a discussion of whether or not a “licensing agreement” of sorts should be included as a prelude to joining MaNIS and, if so, what such an agreement should stipulate. By way of example, Barbara mentioned that all MaNIS participants had initially agreed to share their specimen data and make those data as accurate as possible. What ensued was a lively discussion. Those present unanimously favored having such an agreement and indicated that the topic should be raised on the listserv where all MaNIS participants could weigh in and consensus reached on the wording of such an agreement. It was pointed out that early work concerning the roles of data providers and users of data has been published (McLaren, 1988) and may make a good reference for further discussions.

After the project ends
Throughout the grant period, MVZ has served as the coordinating center for MaNIS. As we approach the end of that period, it was suggested we consider how we will support the network in perpetuity. The point was well made that just as we have been a highly successful model for forging a community, establishing georeferencing guidelines and standards, and creating a distributed network, how we handle this important transition will also be closely watched and emulated.

While there is no immediate or pressing deadline for a transition from the MVZ to another organizing body, it was agreed that now is the time to begin discussions and planning. It was proposed that the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) might maintain the registry for MaNIS in the future. Mention was also made of the role that the National Biological Information Infrastructure (NBII) might play. John pointed out that while NBII was the U.S. node for GBIF and had recently committed to assisting institutions to connect to MaNIS and its sister networks, NBII’s dependence on the vagaries of government funding and changing administrative priorities could make it somewhat problematic in the long-term. The role of the American Society of Mammalogists (ASM) was also discussed. Particular mention was made of the Systematics Collections and Informatics committees and whether or not either of these was an appropriate home for the project. Again, it was agreed that this was a topic to be discussed on the listserv where all MaNIS members could participate.

Specimen mapping
Ending on a high note, John then demonstrated mapping the result set of a MaNIS query as an integrated part of the network. Users will simply select a “mapping result set” on the query page and then click on the “map results” button on the result set page. Several modifications are desired before the program is placed in production on the network and these are targeted for release July 9th. If that isn’t incentive to get your specimen records georeferenced, we don’t know what is!

And with that, the meeting adjourned.

McLaren, Suzanne B. 1988. Journal of Mammalogy 69(1):217-218.

John Wieczorek, 24 Jun 2004
Rev. 5 Jul 2005, JRW
University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720, Copyright © 2004, The Regents of the University of California.