scottv at SPOT.COLORADO.EDU
Mon Jun 30 12:50:55 CDT 1997
In response to those who wondered about Biota, the biodiversity databasing
software, from the standpoint of someone who actually uses it, we have it
up and running in our Insect collection (University of Colorado Museum),
and I am very happy with it.
I started beta-testing Biota (Mac version) back in 1995, and this past
December we purchased a Power Computing Corporation computer (Mac clone
200 MHz, 4 gig hard drive) and got the stand-alone (power) Mac version of
I find the program to be very powerful and well thought out, but also easy
to use. There's a certain gut instinct about how to use the program,
assuming you're a biologist with a basic level of understanding of
relational databases. (I rarely use the manual, but then again, when I
started beta-testing, there was no manual. This is not to say that one
shouldn't read the manual. There's lots of good stuff in it.)
Our collection contains somewhere around 1/2 million specimens (insects
and spiders). We decided to begin databasing our holdings by creating a
species list of the insects in our collection. Since we had no such list,
we though this would be a good starting point. Also, I felt it would be
easier to input specimen information after the species were entered.
Data entry for our species list went quickly. This list includes the
class, phylum, order, family, genus, species epithet, subspecies, and
author. There are also fields for intermediate levels such as suborder,
superfamily, etc. We had one woman input our species list. She has a
Bachelor's degree in Biology and a lot of computer experience, esp.
databases. She worked between 4 and 6 hours a day, 5 days a week. She
found this to be the maximum number of hours *she* could work accurately
in a given day. Between the beginning of January and mid-March she
entered over 13,500 species. (In the average 4 hour day she input 325
We did not check all groups to see if the species names were valid before
entering them into the database. We decided that we would do this as we
recurate our holdings. Biota handles synonyms, so if a species we entered
is no longer valid, we simply add the valid name (unless this is already
represented in our database) and synonymize it.
The way the database is designed cuts down on input time. There are a
variety of time saving features, and the relational design limits
repetitive data entry. Many fields have pop-up tables or automatic data
fill-in that speed things along and reduces typographical errors. As our
database stands right now, if we enter "For" into the Family field and hit
return, it pops up a table giving us a click-able choice of Forficulidae
or Formicidae. If we enter "Form" in the family field, it automatically
fills in the rest of the name Formicidae. These are of course editable,
if we need to enter a family beginning with "For" or "Form" that is not
currently in our database. There is also a Carry button that is very
handy for inputting a series of records. The Carry function accepts the
newly entered record and copies much of the pertinent information to the
next record to be input. This is really nice, for instance, when
inputting lots of species within the same genus; the genus is
automatically carried over, and the entry person does not need to enter it
each time. Also, because of the relational design once you tell it
Formicidae is a Hymenoptera, it knows all Formicidae entered in the future
Now that our species, families, orders etc. have been entered, we print
our unit tray cards and cabinet labels off of Biota. This saves us a lot
of time when curating, acts as a double check to make sure the names in
the database are correct, and prevents more typos.
Biota has a feature that allows you to export data (whatever fields you
select) to .htlm files for placing on the web. Our web site is still
undergoing modifications, however, our species list is up and can be seen
These files were created in an amazingly short time.
Our next step is to begin inputting specimen data. We will be using bar
code labels as unique identification numbers for the specimens. I
personally think that some serious thought needs to be put into what gets
databased (that is - assuming that funding is limiting). We will be
entering our material collected on State lands last summer so that the
information on those specimens is always available for the State agencies.
Voucher specimens will also be databased. Loans are likely to be another
time where we input data, since these will be returning with up to date
identifications. (And Biota will make the loan forms and track the
loans for us.)
It is always easier, no matter how you database, to input specimen data
(including locality and collection) as the specimens come into the
collection. Retro capture of data once species collected in the same
location are spread out throughout the cabinets is a pain, in any form.
Biota has look up menus to see if locality or collection data have
already been entered, and that is helpful, not to mention prevents
duplicate entry of locality/collection data.
There are still features we have not used yet, such as storage of images,
but I can foresee adding pictures of each of our type specimens to our
If it sound like I enjoy working with this software, I do. We were in no
position to desing our own database, and with this software available,
there is no need to.
If you have any questions beyond this, feel free to contact me.
Collections Manager - Entomology
University of Colorado Museum (303) 492-6270
Campus Box 218 fax (303) 492-4195
Boulder CO 80309-0218 scottV at spot.colorado.edu
More information about the Taxacom