Geographic information systems (GIS) provide a visual, intuitive interface for the integration of complex data sets and are ideally suited for relaying information about spatially distributed objects such as plants. Because systems available before the mid-1990's were prohibitively expensive for most systematists, early developers of herbarium database systems did not consider the possibility of capturing locality data from specimens without creating a comprehensive database. This paper discusses a system that takes advantage of simple technology to integrate data from published records, distribution maps, and specimen-based data systems. The working floristic geographic information system for Utah integrates contemporary voucher records with geo-spatial data from several sources, including specimen-based distribution maps from a published atlas of plants. Elements of the system were developed in response to growing environmental and conservation needs in the state of Utah and provide a model for rapid assessments of biodiversity. Our floristic geographic information system is being used to identify areas of conservation concern, develop a model to predict the distribution of rare plants, and analyze patterns of biodiversity. Inexpensive GIS technology allows floristic botanists to use analytical systems available for personal computers without becoming enslaved in the development of massive databases. A simplified means for capturing geo-spatial data from herbarium specimens without creating a detailed database of label information is discussed.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/leila_shultz/84/