Efloraofindia (Earlier Indiantreepix) in BSI/ ZSI Task Force Report
4) Collaborative knowledge generation
A few years ago, John Maynard Smith, one of the most distinguished evolutionary biologists of twentieth century wrote an important book called the ‘Major Transitions in Evolution’. He proposed that the saga of life on earth may be visualized as involving a series of major transitions, with organisms evolving capabilities of handling ever larger quantities of newer and newer kinds of information. This is now culminating in the present day Information and Communication Technology revolution that has brought us to the threshold of yet another major transition, namely from Language based human societies –to- Human societies with global access to the entire stock of human knowledge, and engaged in an endeavour of collaborative knowledge generation. IT-savvy Indians have begun to take advantage of such possibilities; for example, an excellent Indian attempt along these lines is the Google e-group- Indiantreepix, devoted to creating awareness, and helping in identification along with discussion on and documentation of Indian Flora. Here information is shared on a real time basis for the benefit of all stakeholders, minimizing delays and hastening information exchange. The group follows a multi-disciplinary approach with membership from diverse background. Anyone interested is welcome to join this e-group http://groups.google.co.in/group/indiantreepix?hl=en and post photos of a plant (along with place and date) for identification, discussion, and sharing. Every species discussed gets included in the Indiantreepix Database that currently covers more than 2100 species.
Naturally, taxonomists worldwide have begun to take advantage of these possibilities, and developed a number of web-based applications such as checklists, floras and faunas, and interactive identification keys. While the information is universally accessible, editors and authors with permissions can correct and update the data with the use of web forms, permitting world wide, yet well regulated, collaboration. An effort of particular interest to us is that of the Flora of China. This collaboration has involved several hundred botanists and computer experts, working in many different organizations worldwide and has made remarkable progress, generating excellent information on many Indian plant species as well.
Education and outreach
Many leading taxonomic institutions in the world such as Missouri Botanical Garden and Smithsonian Institute have strong education and outreach programmes and it would be appropriate that Botanical and Zoological Surveys also promote such activities in a systematic and vigorous manner. Another good model is our own National Remote Sensing Agency that conducts many very well subscribed short term courses. The Botanical and Zoological Surveys should organize short term courses in identification of specific taxa (common ones like trees, birds and butterflies as well as rare taxa) aimed at undergraduate and M Sc students, as well as practicing scientists in other disciplines such as ecology. Such courses would also cater to the needs of District level centers of systematic biology when these are established. Botanical and Zoological Surveys should also establish mechanisms for working with and encouraging members of groups like ‘Indiantreepix’ so that they can share their experiences on flora of a particular region with the Survey scientists.