Key Innovations in Biodiversity Informatics: Integrating Biodiversity Data
Australia's Virtual Herbarium: a national collaborative model for integrated access to distributed biological information
Jim Croft &.Greg Whitbread (15-20 minutes)
Australian National Herbarium, Centre for Plant Biodiversity Research, Canberra
The Australia's Virtual Herbarium (AVH) is a collaborative project of the Australian botanical community providing integrated access to on-line botanical information from the scientific collections and resources of Australian herbaria in a national partnership with a formal agreement between participants.  With new funding of $Aus 10 million over 5 years, the initial phase of the AVH project is to database and make available taxonomic, distribution and occurrence information associated with all 6.5 million herbarium specimens held across the country through a simple on-line GIS application; the ultimate aim is to provide a complete integrated flora information system as a tool for scientific research, environmental decision-making and public information.
The AVH is based on a distributed heterogeneous database information system, so that the data resides with and is managed and controlled by the custodians and each herbarium has a portal to receive requests and to deliver data from its institutional databases.  A shared common AVH query interface in each herbarium polls all participating herbaria and delivers a single integrated result.  The design philosophy of the AVH is based on information standards developed by and for the botanical community, open architecture, public domain software and free availability of the application and information management structures for use in other biodiversity documentation projects.  It is the intention of the AVH to adapt its architecture and information standards to those being adopted or endorsed internationally in biodiversity informatics frameworks such as TDWG and GBIF.
The AVH marks an unprecedented level of cooperation between institutions at a national level and has been driven by a collective desire on the part of the herbarium community to be more responsive to community needs in providing access to larger amounts of data more rapidly and the need for herbaria to work more efficiently within a declining resource framework.   The acceptance and thus success of the project lies in the relevance of the product for a wide range of users, including applications for research, industry and education, for conservation agencies, land managers and environmental decision makers.