"The cloud idea – getting data out where it's accessible in a variety of ways – is very attractive," said Richard L. Moe, an information technologist and seaweed expert at the University and Jepson Herbaria. "Its capacity for indexing is unparalleled."
For now, though, Moe is working on an NSF-funded project to merge the California plant collections from 17 state institutions into one online database, which has many of the capabilities of a cloud-based collection. UC Berkeley's herbaria have already digitized their 360,000 specimens of California vascular plants (ferns, flowering plants and gymnosperms). Moe is collaborating with institutions as diverse as Cal State Chico and the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, all members of the Consortium of California Herbaria, to help bring their specimens online.
These online collections were used a few years ago by UC Berkeley researchers to predict the impact of climate change on California's endemic land plants.
"The value of online specimens is not only to document existing and new species, but also to investigate the spread of invasive species and future changes to distributions of native species and communities," said Brent Mishler, UC Berkeley professor of integrative biology and director of the campus herbaria. "A similar dataset is needed to document changes in the marine flora."