Report on Discover Life to IAS-IPPC workshop

Tools to identify, report, and map unwanted species

John Pickering
University of Georgia, Athens

Original version presented to the
Invasive Alien Species and the
International Plant Protection Convention
workshop, Braunschweig, Germany,
25 September, 2003

Updated: 24 November, 2003

Fallopia_japonica, Japanese Knotweed
Fallopia japonica, Japanese Knotweed

Photograph by John Pickering, 24 September, 2003,
Harz Forest, Lower Saxony, Germany.

For the first time in history, the Web enables us to help each other on a global scale. Discover Life <> provides Web tools for users to gather and share information in order to improve education, health, agriculture, economic development, and conservation throughout the world. Students, land managers, and scientists alike can identify species, map distributions, and database information to study and monitor nature.

Since it was started in 1997 to support the All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory of the Great Smokies, Discover Life has grown steadily. In now serves over 650,000 pages and images a month from five Sun servers at the University of Georgia, USA, and one Linux server at the Agricultural Research Council, South Africa. In 2003, Discover Life received a large equipment gift from Sun Microsystems Inc. that will expand its capabilities with larger storage disks and 10 processors at the Missouri Botanical Garden, USA.

Discover Life strives for simplicity in its user interface. Its powerful tools are easy to learn and work on most browsers. It's IDnature guides <> are interactive and have numerous advantages over dichotomous keys. They are based on a Perl program called 20q that processes requests on Discover Life's servers and sends HTML pages to users' browsers. 20q does not use JavaScript and requires no browser plugins. Each guide uses XML data files and images located anywhere on the Web. In response to difficulties taxonomists had in building guides prior to 2003, 20q now has eight new tools that greatly lower the learning curve and speed-up guide buiding. Taxonomists now needed just a few hours of training via telephone to build guides independently and efficiently. The guides give instructions on each page and have extensive documentation <>. The Bumblebee guide has been successfully tested and used in high school biology classes. With the help of volunteers and support from the U. S. National Biological Information Infrastructure and other sources, 50 guides are under development for the Americas, Southern Africa, Madagascar, and New Caledonia. Individuals wishing to start a guide should contact John Pickering at Discover Life.

Discover Life's Global Mapper <> was developed in partnership with This tool plots points from Web databases on a composite satellite image of the globe. It then allows users to zoom in through various layers to see detailed maps and access data records. Currently its base maps include a 1:1,000,000 scale map of the world, 17 million topo maps of the United States, and aerial photographs of 89% of the United States to 1 meter per pixel resolution. In total, approximately 20 terabytes of data reside on Topozone's servers and are used by the Global Mapper.

Discover Life | All Living Things | IDnature guides | Global Mapper | The Polistes Foundation | Report to IAS-IPPC