"Nothing happens in living nature that is not in relation to the whole."There are few things more challenging than searching for and accessing biological information.For many reasons, this information has traditionally been the purview of field scientists and academic researchers - frequently lost in the backwaters of an age old technology - the filing cabinet.
Johann von Goethe
Historically, an even greater challenge to the information seeker is actually finding a resource that is not only in digital format, but also GIS compatible.With the advent of the Internet and the growth of data clearinghouses has come an opportunity to change these historic truths.The US Geological Survey is spearheading an effort to make biological data widely available to anyone with an Internet connection. This effort, the National Biological Information Infrastructure (NBII) is the sister component to the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) and is now home to a wide variety of biological information - from fish to coral reefs.
The NBII is a broad based international partnership among federal, state, international and local government agencies, academic institutions, non-profit organizations and private industry.
The NBII As A Digital Library
The NBII, much like a digital library, maintains a vast array and diversity of types of information.Photographs, scientific data and GIS data sit along side each other and are equally accessible, allowing the NBII to serve a wide audience and distinct skill levels and interests. The NBII, through what is called the resource catalog approach, also provides for curriculum resources for teachers, links to expertise databases, a biocomplexity thesaurus, access to online journals, and identifies museum collections that are accessible via the Internet.
The NBII has begun developing geographic nodes that link data from distinct geographic areas together.These nodes are not limited to a particular topic but try to provide a broad view of data available about a region - integrating thematic disciplines with geography.One of the newer geographic nodes is the Mid-Atlantic Information Node (MAIN).According to Gabrielle Canonico, the MAIN program manager at USGS, the MAIN node "encompasses Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia because the Mid-Atlantic region is unique in its ecological breadth, and is experiencing a range of biological resource problems and stressors from a number of sources, not least of which is its large and rapidly growing human population."
According to Canonico, "Issues such as pollution, endangered species, overabundant species, invasive species, acid precipitation, fragmentation, urbanization, transportation, sprawl, prime farmland loss and water supply are the subject of public debate in the region. All of these elements combine to create a strong need for coordination and collaboration among the many localities, management agencies and non-government organizations involved in biological resources management."
Some of the most engaging and informative nodes in the NBII are the thematic nodes and those that are devoted to biodiversity issues.These nodes cover diverse topics in biological information including bird conservation and biodiversity and even amphibian declines and malformations (cleverly called Frogweb).
GIS and the NBII
The FAR node has developed numerous Web GIS-based applications.These applications have been developed using ESRI ArcIMS and ArcSDE and are all WMS/WFS compliant for easy interoperability.The US Fish Explorer is one of the first web GIS applications developed by FAR.The Fisheries Explorer, which was developed by Ryan Baxter and James Spayd of the FAR node, allows users to select from hundreds of species of fish and view their distribution by watershed or river basin.There is also a companion Pennsylvania Fisheries Explorer that was developed using Aquatic GAP data for Pennsylvania.
In general, the NBII initiative provides the long awaited data and information access needed by scientists and citizens alike.As the NBII grows and partnerships expand, this effort could truly begin to fill the information gap and bring biodiversity and nature into our homes and easily into our work with just a few clicks of a mouse.