Distributed public domain databases (DPDD) of biological information on Internet:
An Introduction of a Color Image Database for Japanese Ants

4. Need for image databases for taxonomic use

Taxonomy is the crus of the life sciences. Communications about life sciences cannot take place without a common taxonomy. In the present age, the necessity to preserve the diversity of species has been pointed out just as we humans are in the midst of ongoing, large-scale environmental destruction. The current status of taxonomy, however, falls far short of what is needed. The number of biological species discovered or described to date is estimated to be about 1.4 millions [9]. However, there is no monograph which has comprehensively summarized all of these species. It is therefore difficult at present to confirm the names of various species found in different parts of the world.
The identification of species is currently made using the original descriptions of a given species and by referring to the type specimens on which the original descriptions were based. However, since type specimens are stored in a large number of countries, it is not always easy to gain access to the type specimens needed [10]. Efficient utilization of the huge amount of research information available has been a serious problem for taxonomy, for many years.
If type specimens are photographed, and the photographs are converted into high-resolution graphic data, and if these data are distributed on the Internet in the form of DPDD, together with the original descriptions and other related taxonomic information, everyone will be able to access the taxonomic information they need easily. This will be useful both to researchers in various fields and to the general public, who want or need access to this kind of information. At the same time, it will contribute greatly to advancing taxonomy itself.
However, graphic databases are not superior to conventional type specimens in all aspects. Graphic databases are different from type specimens in the following ways (Fig. 2).

(a) Graphic databases
Advantages: Since the information contained in this type of database is easy to copy, anyone in the world can access it easily. As long as civilization is maintained, the information can be stored permanently without worrying about specimen deterioration. Even when the volume of information increases, maintenance is easy, and access to the information remains simple.
Disadvantages: Detailed information, available only by direct observation of type specimens, is not contained in a graphic database. The overall amount of information available from a graphic database is also less. Photographs cannot be taken from all perspectives. Furthermore, hardware is necessary to make use of graphic database data. Once the necessary hardware is lost, the data in graphic databases cannot be accessed.

(b) Type specimens
Advantages: Type specimens contain more information about the object than any other form of information storage, although the body color of the type specimen often differs from that of the live body and some information related to behaviors and modes of life is lost during the course of preparing type specimens). Type specimens can be utilized macroscopically, without necessitating any particular device.
Disadvantages: Since usually only one type specimen is stored and the method of organizing the specimens for storage varies depending on the species, access is not always easy to find given specimen. Type specimens inevitably deteriorate with time and are always exposed to the danger of being lost. As the number of type specimens increases, their custody and maintenance becomes more difficult and the search for a target type specimen also becomes more difficult.
As mentioned, graphic databases have both advantages and disadvantages when compared with type specimens. It is essential to take these features into account, when preparing graphic databases and devising methods for their utilization.

Back ::: Forward
Japanese Journal of Computer Science Vol.2, No.1: pp.5-13
Copyright 1995 by The Myrmecological Society of Japan (for English version) and The Japanese Association of Computer Science (for Japanese version),