Revealing the riches of data held in natural history collections

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BRAHMS is a data management system for documenting and analysing natural history collections, biodiversity and ecosystems. Version 8, developed at Oxford Plant Sciences and launched recently by Oxford University Innovation, provides museums, botanic gardens and seed banks amongst others with unprecedented control over their data, both on their desktop and online. Scalable from personal research use to enterprise system with millions of records, the latest BRAHMS system is no longer restricted to the plant world.

Built into BRAHMS is a diverse range of practical tools for collection management together with features that support research in systematics, biogeography and the analysis of diversity, all of these encouraging and facilitating publication of data otherwise locked up in collection archives.

Over the years, the system has been used to produce floras and checklists, monographs, field guides, red list reports, on-line catalogues, diversity surveys and atlases.

 

conifer diversity map

A hotspot map generated from BRAHMS online for all conifer taxa, the areas with the highest numbers of taxa in red. Although conifers blanket cover much of the boreal forest, diversity in these regions is very low. Conifers are completely absent from large areas of Africa and South America. The small island of New Caledonia west of Australia has 43 conifer taxa, all endemic to that island. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

arcgis maps
One of the recently added data analysis features is complete integration with ArcGIS allowing users to interact with maps to interpret and evaluate the distribution of taxa. The above distribution data for conifers are also published online https://herbaria.plants.ox.ac.uk/bol/conifers/explore?view=maps&country=australia 

 

Interactive mapping has multiple applications. Here’s a video from the main botanic garden of Utah, USA showing how they can map and check the species in an area known as floral walk: https://herbaria.plants.ox.ac.uk/bol/brahms/software/v8videos#gardenmapping.

Closer to home, BRAHMS is being used to document and image the unique collections held in the University of Oxford Herbaria and to support research into different taxonomic groups including the genus Ipomoea (sweet potatoes). Another recent project has been to document and map the ancient oaks of England - England has more ancient oaks than all other European countries combined, some dating back to the time of the Magna Carta, possibly earlier.  The single largest project storing data for over 6 million botanical specimens and their images is at the National Herbarium of the Netherlands based in the Naturalis Museum, Leiden.

 

namibia website

Projects managing institutional collections are scattered globally, many of these in species diverse regions where fundamental taxonomic work is most needed, others where the project has developed long-term collaborative research links. Examples are in Bolivia, Brazil, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Mauritius, Namibia, New Zealand, Puerto Rico, Seychelles, Singapore, South Africa, Trinidad and Tobago, USA and Vietnam.

The Flora of Namibia is published online with many tremendous images of indigenous, xerophytic plants. Check out some images in the family Aizoaceae in Namibia – most of the species endemic to arid or semiarid parts of Southern Africa. 

 

Data managed in BRAHMS can also aid policy makers and communities to make informed decisions and better use of the natural world, supporting institutions working towards UN Sustainable Development Goals for the preservation of global biodiversity and optimising global access to fundamental data about our natural heritage.  Much of this work is carried out using BRAHMS at the conservation section at RBG Kew and at the Millennium Seed bank.

 

msbp seedbank
RBG Kew's Millennium Seed Bank Partnership use BRAHMS to gather seed collection data from the many partners across our global network of seed banks. It has been an invaluable tool in monitoring the progress of our seed collection programme.  – Tim Pierce, The Millennium Seed Bank Partnership (MSBP). The partnership project is published on http://brahmsonline.kew.org/msbp

 
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The BRAHMS specimen imaging project at the National Herbarium of Malawi, located in Zomba, Southern Malawi, one of a cluster of projects in East and Southern Africa capturing data and images of local plants.

 

Oxford University Innovation is now promoting BRAHMS more widely and in particular, helping us extend its role with managing data in the world’s botanic gardens. To find out more about how BRAHMS can manage data across any collection, visit https://herbaria.plants.ox.ac.uk/bol/brahms.

 

Visit: https://process.innovation.ox.ac.uk/software to request a free 60 day trial of BRAHMS v8.