AVH Briefing Paper November 2008

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This paper is a briefing for CHAH on the current status, potential development and associated issues of the Australia's Virtual Herbarium. It is intended to guide discussions on enhancement and implementation of the current (AVH 3.0) an the direction and development of future releases (AVH 4.0).

AVH Version and Status

The historical development of the AVH and the supporting HISPID data exchange specification is outlined on the Australia's Virtual Herbarium page.

AVH current version

AVH development version

  • The current development version is 3.0.
  • The database cache, database back-end, data query and delivery protocols and data query client interface have been redeveloped as open source public domain applications.
  • The application has been released in prototype form for public evaluation and feedback.
  • http://www.sapac.edu.au/avh/

AVH development work outstanding

  • Current activity is attending to the interface design.
    • This includes screen layout and graphics.
    • The design intent is for a new 'look and feel' to identify the transition form version 2.0 to 3.0.
    • See AVH Interface Design
  • When interface is complete, the AVH will be ready for formal public launch, if this is desired.
  • Implement AVH help functions, AVH Help Page

Future major development

  • The next major development will be AVH version 4.0

AVH clients and stakeholders

The AVH has a wide range of current and potential clients and stakeholders, ranging from the botanically inexperienced to the expert.

Data custodians, providers

  • Australian and New Zealand herbaria
  • ABRS
  • University herbaria

Data users

  • Environmental policy
  • Environmental decision makers
  • Herbarium botanists
  • Students
  • Natural resource and land managers
  • Conservationists
  • Botanically interested public
  • Data aggregators/integrators (ALA, GBIF)

AVH Issues

HISCOM has identified a number of AVH issues in need of attention.

Non-compliant/non-standard data issues

The inclusion of new query fields in AVH3.0 has highlighted some issues with non-HISPID-compliant data being delivered to AVH. Some of the non-compliance issues are minor and can be remedied relatively easily by changing the way that data is delivered to, or presented by, AVH. An example of this is where country or state names are provided in upper case (as prescribed by HISPID) by some herbaria, and in mixed case by others: 'Tasmania' can be changed to 'TASMANIA' without altering (or interpreting) the meaning of the original content.

Other non-compliance issues are much more complicated, and require changes to how (or sometimes what) data is being stored by different herbaria. For example, MEL provides TDWG World Geographic Scheme (WGS) Level 2 values as country, and not the ISO political country name as prescribed by HISPID. This is not a problem for Australian records, as the WGS Level 2 region corresponds with the ISO country name, but it is highly problematic for ex-Australian records, where the WGS Level 2 entry may not be a country at all (e.g. a record collected in Papua New Guinea will have 'Malesia' delivered as country). Fixing this issue requires the implementation of new fields in the MEL collections database, manual population of the new fields (i.e. editing the thousands of problematic records) and reconfiguration of the ABCD tables.

Initial testing of the country and state queries in AVH3.0 indicates that there are similar issues with the data being provided for these fields from some other herbaria (see Location query issues for more detail). As a temporary workaround, the state and country options in AVH3.0 will query across multiple fields (country, state, locality) to find matches from the data, but this is a less than ideal solution as it makes assumptions about the content of those fields, as well as about what the user is trying to access. It is much more desirable that data is fixed at the source institution rather than relying on such workarounds. Each participating institution needs to be committed to improving the quality of their data and appropriate resources should be expended to allow data to be delivered in a canonical form.

Cultivated data is also dealt with in a non-standard way, which can lead to users getting unexpected or misleading results from AVH queries.

Relationship between AVH & ALA

  • ALA infrastructure for the AVH
  • AVH data to be delivered through the ALA

Requirement for a new strategic plan (and a new MoU?)

  • The current AVH strategic plan is now several years old. Advancing technology and initiation of new projects such as GBIF, the ALA and the EoL suggest that it is now time to reappraise and update.
  • A new strategic plan and associated MOU between participants should take into account the new range of AVH clients and stakeholders, the increased range of available data and the community's increasing expectations of on-line information systems.

Integration of APC & APNI with specimen data

  • Currently there is no direct connection between the names on specimens reported through teh AVH and the name/taxon entries in APNI/APC
  • As a result there is inherent ambiguity in the AVH query and results. Taxon concepts are not explicit and are loosely inferred leading to a degree of 'fuzziness' in the AVH result.
  • While this 'fuzziness' is largely understood by botanists who appreciate the limitations of the data and the applications, the general public is likely to be unaware of this and take the results as a literal truth.
  • The limitation need to be explained clearly and and feedback/annotation mechanisms provided to allow users to comment and report on the data.

How to extend the current functionality

  • The ALA is well supported to develop infrastructure to support the AVH. As this is the primary role of the ALA, the AVH should not attempt to duplicate or compete but rather work with the ALA to develop or enhance infrastructure to meet out needs.
  • At this stage the extended functionality contracted to SAPAC has been completed and is being tested for QA, etc.; most work is now required on the interface in terms of user interaction and navigation and in terms of the graphic 'look and feel'.
  • A HISCOM working group has divided and assigned these two tasks.
  • The design discussions are taking place on AVH Interface Design.

The need to co-opt other well-funded projects

  • The scale of work required for the AVH exceeds the funds available through CHAH.
  • Options include seeking funds from kindred agencies,projects or trusts:
    • ALA
    • ABRS
    • others?
  • Collaboration with the ALA seems an obvious avenue.

Future functionality

HISCOM is considering additional functionality for future releases of AVH. These include additional functionality to the existing application (AVH 3.1+) and major new developments (AVH 4.0+).

Potential functionality for AVH 3.1+

  • Enhanced query options and form navigation
  • Polygon area selection function
  • New spatial layers
    • Oceans
    • Geophysical
    • Conservation areas
    • Climate
    • etc.
  • Optional Google Maps display

Potential functionality for AVH 4.0+

  • APNI/APC intgration
  • Species profile, on-line flora system integration
  • User data contribution, annotation
  • Web services