Informatics The Department of Informatics is a multidisciplinary unit of biologists and software engineers which develops and supports software for biological collections research.

We collaborate with scientists in museums, herbaria and biodiversity centers around the world to build cyberinfrastructure to mobilize and apply data from biological specimens amassed from over 400 years of species discovery and documentation.

Specify Logo


Specify is a software database platform for museum and herbarium research data. It manages species voucher information for: computerizing and curating collections, tracking specimen transactions, linking images to specimen records, and for publishing species occurrence data to the Internet. Specify is written in Java, runs on Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux computers and uses MySQL as its data engine. Specify, Java, and MySQL are free and open-source licensed.

A Collaborative Approach

Biodiversity Informatics is a multidisciplinary research and development activity. It spans computer science, data networking, software engineering, environmental biology, and education. To solve significant research challenges, informaticist must integrate across disciplines at several levels—with theory, concepts, methods, and data.

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Where will invasive species next attack? What geographic areas are most vulnerable to the plague? Scientists are addressing these questions and more using Lifemapper services to predict where certain species might thrive. Using the information associated with biodiversity research collections worldwide, Lifemapper uses geospatial species data to create distribution maps. Then it goes one step further to predict where an individual species could exist based on where it is documented to live. Lifemapper does this by combining species occurrence data with global climate, terrain and land cover information, to identify environmental correlates of species ranges.


Scientists in the field have collected voucher specimens since the 19th century. Today, most sit in research institutions around the world “dried, mounted, pickled, preserved, frozen and stuffed,” according to the creators of Lifemapper, an online species-distribution tool created at the University of Kansas.

With an NSF award recently recommended for funding, the Lifemapper team hopes to further refine its ability to predict shifting habitats to supply scientists and conservationists with the best data to protect species around the world.