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Picturing Life in New York

Magazine article Information Today

Picturing Life in New York

Article excerpt

Their work in the field is tedious. Biologists are trying to figure out where things live by picking the leaves of individual trees, capturing individual insects, and tagging individual critters. They record precise data about where and when each specimen was discovered. Each little bit of information is not worth much in itself. But when these individual observations of many field workers are combined, they can tell us much about where we live and what lives with us.

Inventories of this type are often conducted in rain forests or other areas where the plants and animals are not only plentiful but diverse. Seldom do we think of large metropolitan areas as places where so much life abounds that they qualify as testbeds for measurement.

At the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, they not only think otherwise, but they've got the data to prove it.

Speaking at Metadiversity III-Global Access for Biodiversity Through Integrated Systems, an international conference co-sponsored by the U.S. Geological Survey's Biological Informatics Office (National Biological Information Infrastructure) and NFAIS in early April, Steven Clemants, vice president of science at the garden, shared the early results of his New York Metropolitan Flora project.

Based on 225,000 observations (some made in the early 1800s), Clemants and his colleagues have been able to combine scraps of information into interesting maps that show us how Mother Nature manages to not only survive, but thrive, even in the concrete jungle.

According to Clemants, though the 25 counties that make up the New York metropolitan area represent only 0. …

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