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Web tools to identify, report and map invasive species in North America

John Pickering

University of Georgia, 717A Biological Sciences Building, Athens, GA 30602-2602, USA; e-mail:


The Internet provides opportunities for people to work cooperatively on solving problems globally. Discover Life ( is a Web site that offers tools for users to gather and share information about nature. These Web-based tools for species identification, reporting and distribution mapping could help manage invasive species and improve plant protection. The interactive guides being developed will help identify invasive species in North America.

Introduction to Discover Life

The Internet enables us, for the first time in history, to help each other on a global scale. Organizations and individuals are no longer limited by geography but are able to work cooperatively to pool information and provide useful tools to solve problems world wide. One such initiative is Discover Life (, a Web site founded in 1998, which provides Web tools for users to gather and share information about nature in order to improve education, health, agriculture, economic development and conservation throughout the world. Students, land managers and scientists alike can identify species, map distributions and access and expand database information to study and monitor nature.

Discover Life serves Internet users with hundreds of thousands of pages and images each month. It is being developed by a growing partnership of organizations. These include the Agricultural Research Council of South Africa, BioNET-INTERNATIONAL, Lucid (Centre for Biological Information Technology, University of Queensland), the Missouri Botanical Garden, the Polistes Foundation, SAFRINET, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, Sun Microsystems,, the University of Georgia and the United States National Biological Information Infrastructure.

Web tools relating to invasive alien species

Web-based identification, reporting and mapping tools could help manage invasive species and improve plant protection.

Many schools and volunteer organizations could help detect and manage invasive species, for example, simply by studying nature in their local communities and reporting what they find. However, most people are prevented from contributing valuable data. They lack the ability to identify target species reliably and cannot easily share their findings with others. They need identification guides that are illustrated, non-technical, and can be successfully used by beginners with minimal training. They need intuitive data reporting tools that empower novice users to locate their study sites accurately, enter their findings in a database and exchange high-quality information through maps that filter data by source and reliability. At Discover Life, we are developing technology to overcome these major hurdles.

Discover Life, in partnership with, has developed Web tools to report and map information about species. We are building interactive guides that will help users identify invasive species in North America. Specifically, we will develop nature guides to identify 2 500 vertebrates and trees of North America, including native species, known alien invasive species and exotic species that are commonly available as pets and ornamentals. We will make these products freely available to Web users through Discover Life. They will give teachers, students, interested citizens, land managers and scientists powerful tools to distinguish invasive species from each other and from their native look-alikes.

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