Moseying: Living La Vida Llanero
High Tech database project ongoing at the Sibley Nature Center
November 6, 2011
Imagine have a smartphone app for learning the flora and fauna of our part of the Llano Estacado! Now, imagine the work that it takes to create such a thing. First, you have to have lots of people contributing photos. The Llano Estacado chapter of the Texas Master Naturalists have been doing that for the last four years. Over 50,000 digital photos have been amassed!
What comes next? Photoeditting, and renaming each photo file so a software program can sort the database. That is going to take a long time, especially since more photos keep coming in. Everybody is welcome to contribute to the files -- take photos of organisms living in the wild (including backyard widlife) in higher resolution (not raw) and bring them to us on a CD or a jumpdrive. Over 200 people have already contributed.
The project has already illuminated heretofore unknown behavior in invertebrates, documented many range extensions (not recorded in printed material or in university collections) of birds, insects and plants, and exposed the diversity of mushrooms and other fungi in this arid land.
We will display the images and information about the species on large touch screen monitors, which a local foundation recently funded. This part of the project will take a long time, as we also give hundreds of programs to local civic groups, schools, church groups, and more every year, too. We love to host groups at Sibley, so people can see all the marvelous changes that occurred over the last two years -- the million dollars worth of outside renovations highlighted by our wildlife observation room and garden, as well as more recent improvements inside, featuring 12 wonderful mounted specimen cases, a full size mounted black bear, and a new floor.
The Sibley Nature Center's most important role is to be a resource for the citizens, politicians, land managers, and visitors, as well as students of all ages. We receive several thousand requests for information each year -- people often drop in, many others call, quite a few send an email (and a photo), and over 1000 West Texans have joined my Facebook page. We love all the requests and reports -- especially when we are stumped or amazed by something new!
We use many resources to determine the species we are being asked to identify. The Sibley Nature Center has amassed a substantial "natural history" library, and a growing historical library. We are blessed by our long association with the Midland Naturalists (Midnats) and similar groups in Lubbock and Amarillo, with access to the groups' decades of records of birds, butterflies, and dragonflies. In recent years, websites such as Bugguide have also become much utilized tools. We will soon be photographing Michael Nickell's wonderful insect collect of 3000 insect specimens, and uploading those that we do not know to Bugguide for identification. There is no central clearinghouse for West Texas invertebrates, and so far no grant has materialized for the colleges and universities to digitize images of their collections.
As we fill files of each of our eight major habitats with enough images and text, we will transfer them to the touch screen monitors. The monitors will already have endless loops of the images of the organisms of the habitats until we reach that point in our goal. These files will be continuously added to, an ongoing citizen science project EVERYONE can join! When we discover the proper software and attain the knowledge to convert the files to be used as smartphone apps (or receive a grant to hire it done) we hope many folks will find the apps useful. Since information will continually stream in, the smartphone apps will be updated periodically.It is a big project, and we are a little nature center, but modern technology makes it possible. No other nature center anywhere has ever done it, but every region should have such a database readily available for their citizens. We all should know as much as we can about our own home, don't you think?