Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2012

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

First Advisor

Robert P. Guralnick

Second Advisor

Patrick Kociolek

Third Advisor

Andrew Martin

Fourth Advisor

Steve Schmidt

Fifth Advisor

Diane Sieber

Abstract

Biologists are in a race to document biodiversity in the face of ailing ecosystems and species decline. The drive to create knowledge to support effective documentation, measurement, and conservation of biodiversity has led the community to quickly research and develop methods to organize and connect biodiversity data across providers and throughout the world. Biodiversity data came online through distributed and disconnected databases but through time has been shaped into a biodiversity network that now represents nearly 500 million biodiversity records. The ability to access these data has brought exciting new research and new challenges. In this thesis I discuss my work to solve some of those challenges and build innovative approaches and tools for biodiversity informatics. I start by documenting tools that help improve the quality and fitness for use of data. Then I present two tools for visualizing and analyzing data in a phylogenetic and conservation context. More importantly, I discuss how designing these tools to operate within a greater knowledge creation framework can make the work of documenting patterns and processes in biodiversity faster and more resilient to future changes and improved information. At the heart of that discussion is the idea that the outputs of the tools themselves should be published and directly linked back to the original data and forward to any future analyses. The outputs should also document all models, parameters, and heuristics used do arrive at the reported outcome. In this way, both the data and our research of that data can be woven into a connected fabric of knowledge and information that links biodiversity and the digital data stored in our databases. Finally, I discuss the possibility we have for expanding our biodiversity data and improving the research we can do with it through the use of citizen science. The data available today is still deficient. Natural history collections hold a wealth of data that has not yet been digitized, but as a community we lack the resources to unlock that data quickly without a novel solution. Citizen science offers us the ability to quickly generate historical biodiversity data from natural history collections. We present a novel platform for engaging citizen scientists and developing a shared, community driven, platform to harness the potential of citizen science.

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