Flora Altaica and a new collaboration

17 July 2019 Faculty of Biology

Flora Altaica is a major research project of Altai State University led by Dr. Alexander Shmakov.  Its goal is to synthesize what is known about the plant diversity of the Altai Mountain Country from field and laboratory studies of its flora. Early in 2019, Drs. Alexei Vaganov and Polina Gudkova created a website for the project that provides background information and news about its progress.

This summer, at the AKTRU International Summer School, Dr. Polina Gudkova discussed with Dr. Mary Barkworth of Utah State University (USU) how existing software for sharing keys, descriptions, distribution maps, and nomenclatural information could be used to put these resources online and allow integration of color images of living plants and herbarium specimens with the descriptions. Such images make descriptions both more understandable and attractive to a wider range of people. The project will continue to focus on production of printed volumes but will use digital technology to share more of the information gained when conducting floristic projects than can be included in print publications. Another benefit is that the electronic resources will be free, a benefit that everyone will enjoy. They will also make it easier to modify a treatment if further research shows this to be appropriate.

The major software program used will be Symbiota (2019). This program displays information from natural history collections such as herbaria and integrates it with descriptions, images, various research tools, and nomenclatural information. The Flora Altaica Project will use OpenHerbarium, which is run by Symbiota software and managed by Mary Barkworth and Evin Dunn, a programmer working with Dr. Neil Cobb of Northern Arizona University. The other program is KeyBase (2019), a program for sharing dichotomous identification keys and linking the taxa identified to descriptive pages such as those generated by OpenHerbarium. The Flora Altaica website will be modified later this summer to show how these two programs can benefit the project. This experience will undoubtedly suggest ways in which, with modification, could be even more useful for flora projects. Making such modifications will require additional funding but, even without such funding, Symbiota and KeyBase will make it easier to share what is known about the plant diversity of Altai’s mountains. 

The collaboration that started at the AKTRU International Summer School between the botanists of Altai State University and Utah State University is, at present, informal but Polina Gudkova and Mary Barkworth will be working together to formalize it this fall. They are both excited about the possibilities such as collaboration will open for specialists and students in different fields. Altai State University has a very active plant research program in the most floristically diverse part of the Russian Federation. Utah State University was responsible for the two grass volumes in the Flora of North America series and is currently involved, together with Northern Arizona University, in Symbiota2, a project funded by the National Science Foundation for making Symbiota easier to modify, easier to use, and more powerful. Together, they look forward to promoting new ways for helping people learn about the wonderful diversity of plants which provide us with food, oxygen, and pleasure.

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