Museums and the Web 2005
Screen Shot: a map display of records returned

Reports and analyses from around the world are presented at MW2005.

Deriving Meaning From Specimens: Making Zoological Data Available On The Web

Elycia Wallis, Museum Victoria, Basil Dewhurst, Collections Australia Network, Australia and Alan Brooks, KE Software, Canada


In museums, natural sciences collections reflect past and present faunal and floral biodiversity and the geology of the earth. These collections are characterized by having many duplicate specimens of each species, with variation in collection locality and time. This is in contrast to cultural collections where few duplicates may be collected and the unique value of each object is emphasized. Museum collection management systems that document natural sciences collections are usually highly structured and have few fields that contain interpreted data (information). Each individual specimen record carries little special meaning. Again, this is in contrast to cultural collections where individual objects may be endowed with a great deal of meaning; may be extensively documented; and may even be accorded iconic status in an institution's collection.

The challenge in presenting natural sciences collections on the Web is to construct meaning from the individual, duplicate specimens.  Whilst the precise data for a single specimen may not be interesting to an on-line user, a map showing information about a species may be. Users may be interested in how common the species is, what its geographical distribution is, and whether that distribution has changed over time.

In Australia, and across the world, there are a number of searchable Web sites of natural sciences collections. Common to all is the ability to derive new meanings from individual specimens. This is often achieved by combining specimen data points in a graphic way to provide information about the species. One such project, the Online Zoological Collections of Australian Museums (OZCAM), Australia’s Fauna Web site, is a collaboration among all the major and several minor natural sciences collecting institutions in Australia to present museum collections on-line. Further collaborations are made with the Collections Australia Network, who provide technical support and who host the site, and with software providers KE Software, who have developed the portal and display software.  The OZCAM, Australia’s Fauna project, will be described and used as an illustration of how multi-institutional collaborations can provide greater access and meaning to natural sciences collections on the Web.

Keywords: natural sciences, collaboration, distributed research collections


A Brief History Of Natural Sciences Collections

Collecting is a pastime enjoyed by many, over hundreds of years. The natural world has provided fertile soil, often literally, for collections. The reasons that people collect specimens from the natural world vary widely – curiosity, a desire to find the first example of a species, or sometimes just as a hobby, much as others find enjoyment in collecting apple dolls or flutes. There have been many famous collectors and collections. For example, the Italian collector Aldrovandi in the sixteenth century amassed a collection of some 20,000 specimens with the aim of completing a inventory of the natural world (Blom, 2002). Others in history were attracted by the rare, the beastly or the grotesque. One example is the cabinet of curiosities collected by Francesco Calceolari in Verona in the seventeenth century. It contained, among many things, the "saw of a sawfish, antlers and snail houses" (Blom, 2002), sharks, crocodiles, a deformed head, and numerous stuffed animals and birds. Some of these 'cabinets of curiosities' became very large indeed, sometimes filling entire mansions or palaces. And some of these collections are still preserved today – although not often in their original form. The 200,000 curiosities of Sir Hans Sloane, which included zoological specimens of snakes, insects (including beetles and butterflies), fish, palaeontological specimens, strange oddments such as a bezoar, and various monstrosities (often deformed human foetuses) (Blom, 2002), were donated to the Royal Society of London upon his death. His collection then joined the library of Sir Robert Cotton and the Royal Library to form the British Museum (Blom, 2002).

Gradually, the focus of collecting the history of the natural world became more systematized and methodical, and less concerned with odd curiosities from distant and exotic lands. One man, who was highly influential in the development of this new "scientific" style of collecting and is known to all natural sciences scholars today, is Carl Linnaeus. Linnaeus was a botanist who sought to find order in the chaos of the natural world and who developed the Latin binomial system of naming species: it is still used today (Blom, 2002). In his time, Linnaeus amassed a huge collection of botanical specimens which is still preserved in the headquarters of the Linnaean Society in Piccadilly. Of course, these specimens were ordered quite differently to the old 'cabinets' where, if there was any order at all, it was entirely at the whim of the owner. The new collections were ordered according to the dictates of scientific realism – that every living thing had its place and that the order of collections should reflect this. Scientific realism has set the stage for natural sciences collecting for several centuries now and, although the techniques for collection, documentation and storage are now far advanced from those of several centuries ago, the same principles still apply.

The purpose of this brief history lesson is to give some flavour to how natural history collections in many museums have developed. Some of the now centuries-old specimens that once belonged to the cabinets of curiosities of the European nobility, along with the, also sometimes centuries-old specimens collected by the rationalist scientists of the eighteenth century onwards, have made their way into modern institutions. The old specimens have been joined by large quantities of new specimens - although the terms "old" and "new" do not adequately reflect the continuum of collecting that has occurred.

Many of the old specimens kept in museum collections are now considered to be curios, retained in the collection for reasons other than their scientific value. As Knell (2004) describes, they may be kept because they are unique – such as the only known occurrences of taxonomically, geologically or stratigraphically interesting specimens, or species now extinct and thus impossible to recollect. Or they may be specimens which hold some interest for the viewing public, such as huge fossil or mineral specimens. Some retain a scientific importance, such as specimens whose descriptions have been published in the scientific literature. Others may not be striking specimens at all, but may be kept because of their associations with important historical characters – such as barnacles or finches collected by Charles Darwin or orchids by Alfred Russel Wallace. These older specimens are really "objects of history and culture" (Knell, 2004) rather than objects interesting to modern science. They may be imbued with narratives and meanings so that, in the sense of their worth, they are more closely associated with objects of cultural history and material culture (Knell, 2004). These old specimens can form large parts of natural science collections, but they are not the specimens which are the focus of this paper.

Modern Natural Sciences Collections


Arguably the principal reason that the old collections described above have little value to the modern scientific world is their documentation, or lack thereof. Natural sciences specimens need two basic pieces of information in order to be useful scientifically. The specimen must be able to be identified; that is, have a scientific name applied to it, and its provenance (from where the specimen was collected) must be known. Prior to the advent of computer-based collection management tools, all that was known about a particular specimen was written on to the tag attached to the specimen and recorded in a ledger. The records, being handwritten, were often brief. Modern computer-based registration systems provide a much more complex way of recording data and many more cues about what data to record. Data standards for documentation of natural sciences specimens have also been developed, and some are extensive – running to a potential several hundred pieces of data that could be recorded about a single specimen (for example, see the ABCD schema at which has approximately 700 elements, and Darwin Core at which has 44 elements).

Interestingly, it should be noted that data, rather than information, is generally recorded in natural sciences collection registration systems.  Here, 'data' is defined as uninterpreted, objective facts, and 'information' is data that has been analyzed and interpreted – "data endowed with relevance and purpose" (Drucker, 1998).  In information is the notion of human involvement, that a person has taken raw data and refined it. This lack of a place for recording information about a specimen means that, often, collection records appear to be one dimensional – full of facts but not very interesting reading. The stories or narratives that may be told about a particular specimen, and which may give that specimen additional layers of meaning are not recorded in the database. One of the interesting developments in newer collection management systems, where both natural sciences specimens and cultural history objects are recorded in the same system, is the opportunity for natural scientists to make use of some of the fields placed in the database for the cultural historians – and some of the narratives are beginning to be written (for example, see Museum Victoria's Treasures of Museum Victoria Web site at which draws data from KE Software's KE EMu collection management software,

But to return to the data stored about specimens

Provenance Data

 Provenance data is more widely known as collection locality data in natural sciences circles. These are the key pieces of data about a specimen that can never be retrieved or recreated if lost. This is unlike specimen identification which, if the specimen exists in good condition, an expert taxonomist or geologist can redo. These data include the exact location that the specimen was collected, on land or in the sea, and including stratigraphic data for mineral and fossil specimens; surrounding physical characteristics of the environment such as temperature, salinity, vegetation, or the host plant for an insect; the date; the collector's name and the method of collection. Old collection labels and register entries, as previously mentioned, are often brief. It is not uncommon to see old specimen labels which read like an out-of-date atlas and provide only a country name for the collection locality, such as Abyssinia, Persia or Tanganyika. Or, worse, the locality may be so broad as to be meaningless, such as "Pacific Ocean".

Modern collecting practices require much more rigorous documentation standards at the point of collection than simply the name of the country or water body. Arguably most important of all these pieces of data, at least for zoological and botanical collections, is the precise location, or the latitude and longitude, expressed as accurately as possible in decimal degrees. (Although note that this still does not accurately describe the third dimension of stratigraphic depth for palaeontological and geological specimens). Technology has provided the modern collector with new ways to accurately record the latitude and longitude – with GPS units now virtually standard-issue equipment in any collector's field bag. The wide availability of GPS technology has led to an increasing desire for accuracy in the recording of the latitude and longitude – at least by the writers of documentation standards and those interested in geospatial modeling and mapping - such that some standards require an estimate of inaccuracy of the latitude and longitude to be provided in metres from the collection point. For example, the Darwin Core 2.0 element "CoordinateUncertaintyInMetres" is defined as

the upper limit of the distance (in meters) from the given latitude and longitude describing a circle within which the whole of the described locality must lie. Use NULL where the uncertainty is unknown, cannot be estimated, or is not applicable (because there are no coordinates).

(Taxonomic Databases Working Group, 2004).

Ironically, this requirement for exceptional precision in the recording of the latitude and longitude means that even collections made just two decades ago can now be thought of as "poorly documented". (At that time, latitude and longitude was often calculated from a map, with a wide margin for inaccuracy depending on the scale of the map and the skill of the reader, or determined using a Gazetteer to provide the latitude and longitude of the nearest named place.)

Focus or Rationale

The other development that marks modern from old collections is the focus or rationale for undertaking the collecting process in the first place. In some ways little has changed; modern taxonomists are still just as interested as they ever were in describing new species and creating an immense catalogue of the biodiversity of the world. An example of this effort is Species 2000, a project with a stated objective of

enumerating all known species of organisms on Earth (animals, plants, fungi and microbes) as the baseline dataset for studies of global biodiversity

(Species 2000, 2005).

However, mounting expeditions is an expensive business, and funding bodies rarely reward the collector who wishes to visit an unexplored area just to "see what's there". Collections today are made to answer a particular and well-articulated scientific question. Museums, however, are often cash-starved and have found funding sources by turning their resident taxonomists into consultants – guns for hire to be contracted by government departments and private enterprise to run surveys and assessments of the impacts of development or mining or fishing, or to run monitoring programs in national parks or ecologically fragile environments. All of these activities generate more and more specimens, and often many duplicates of the same species collected over time.

The Curation Crisis and the Taxonomic Impediment

The holdings of natural sciences material in many state or national museums are immense, growing, and expensive to care for. They require large storage areas, and special monitoring and storage materials (Stankowski, 1998). The older specimens, which may have lost their scientific value as previously discussed, but which are retained for their historical and cultural meanings, compete for space with new collections. The new specimens, whilst they might have been "wage earners" during the collection process as part of a consultancy, become money sinks afterwards. Also, with consultancies and other scientific collecting often yielding many duplicate specimens, the vast majority of specimens are never used in exhibitions, or even in further scientific research, and spend 99% of their time in the collection stores (Stankowski, 1998). Deaccessioning these specimens to save money and make more room often appears to be an attractive solution.

However, alongside the curation crisis is what is known as the "taxonomic impediment". The taxonomic impediment describes our gaps in knowledge and understanding of the natural world; the shortage of museum professionals, including taxonomists and curators; and the "impact that these deficiencies have on our ability to manage and use our biological diversity" (Environment Australia, 1998). The taxonomic impediment means that the immense collections should not be viewed as just be taking up valuable space, but are actually a tremendous source of information and knowledge – if we can just make it available in a form that others can use.

Presenting Natural Sciences Collections On-line

Museums have been enthusiastic about their adoption of new technologies for publishing to the Web. As Knell (2004) states, by the late 20th century, collecting and documentation frameworks in the disciplines had become "set in a world of digitization and information networking." On-line technologies allowed data about collection objects to be made more freely available. However, in doing so, there was also an expectation that the content would be meaningful, understandable and navigable (Cameron, 2001, 2003).

In the past few years, museums have explored two basic ways of making their collections accessible on-line. Often both ways are presented in one Web site. The first is through the "theme/subtheme/storyline" approach (Cameron, 2001) where objects are presented as they would be in an exhibition. The user is led through a predefined path and allowed to access authored statements about the objects. The interpretation is made by the curator rather than the user. This type of Web site has been less prominent for natural sciences collections, partly because of the effort involved in writing the text. As stated above, the stories that might relate to certain objects in a collection are generally not written down – certainly not in older collection management systems, and sometimes not at all. The knowledge about the collections is often held only in the heads of the scientific staff.

The second way that collections are made accessible on-line is through a search interface into data held in the collection management system. This method is often adopted for collections which are documented using discrete fields for data. However, as Cameron (2001) states:

Generally this solution is more useful to specialists who have an interest in fielded data. Without a clear understanding of the information available, the way data is modeled, and the search terminologies used to access material, an approach such as this is of little use to non-specialist users.

In addition to being difficult to search, simply presenting the fielded data from a collection management system has not proved to be an engaging way to deliver information about natural sciences collections. This sentiment is echoed by Siegel and Grigoryeva (1999) who state that collection management systems are designed for "researchers, registrars and collection managers." That is, they are not designed with direct access for the general public in mind. There are a number of reasons why direct access into the collection management system has proved to be unsatisfactory. One compelling reason is that the data are simply uninteresting when presented as page after page, in list format, of collection records of duplicate specimens of the same species. This is a common result to a general query and simply reflects the content of the actual collections. As described above, the collection management system would not usually store information about the species that a single specimen represents. Information such as the distribution of the species, how common the species is or whether the habitat of the species has been affected recently by bushfires, for example, would not be stored in the object catalogue. In short, object catalogues for natural sciences collections do not make compelling reading on-line without an interpretive overlay.

What is required is a way that on-line users can engage dynamically with the data – frame their own questions, and extract their own meanings. Furthermore, a capacity is needed for users to frame questions not just about the individual specimens in the collection but about the species they represent. New generation Web sites provide a retrieval mechanism that is sophisticated enough to take the data in natural sciences collections and add meaning through automation. This provides the users with greater autonomy to phrase their own questions and make their own interpretations (Cameron, 2001). Embedded in this idea is one about how different data have different meanings for different people, a point Marty (1999) makes. Interfaces that permit users to frame their own questions and interpret the answers using their own frames of reference are likely to encourage the users to stay longer and are also likely to attract a wider variety of users.

Biodiversity Informatics

The new generation of natural sciences Web sites provides user-driven views of biological data, utilizing the very aspects of the collection documentation that made for uninteresting Web pages in the simple search-and-display model. That is, natural sciences object level data usually contain reference to spatial data – where the specimen was collected from – and temporal data – when it was collected. Thus, natural sciences collections, at least the new collections where these data are recorded, are perfect for applying geographic information systems (GIS) technologies.

Geographic information systems are a suite of technologies that allow for the manipulation and display of spatially-based data. In their simplest form, they allow for computerized cartography (Limp, 1999/2001). In their more complex forms, they allow for mapping the distribution of species across time, or tracking the migration of animals across the globe, for example. When built into Web sites, they provide the user with tools to dynamically generate maps; for example, of species distribution. A number of such sites now exist. One of the largest examples is the Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS at This site provides geo-referenced information about marine species from around the world. Another is the Mammal Networked Information System (MaNIS at A third example is the Australian Virtual Herbarium (AVH at which provides access to floral (plant) collections There are many others.

In the rest of this paper, a description will be provided of one such Web site, that of OZCAM, Australia’s Fauna (at This site provides access to the collections of most of Australia’s major and minor museums and collecting institutions and allows users to dynamically create maps of animal species as well as to view individual specimen records.

The OZCAM, Australia's Fauna Website Project


Collectively, the Australian custodians of faunal data and collections, through their peak body - the Council of Heads of Australian Faunal Collections (CHAFC) - decided to provide access to specimen data on the Internet. The aim of the project was to provide a search interface to distributed datasets of Australian faunal collections. The result is the OZCAM, Australia’s Fauna gateway which is accessible at or All major and a number of minor collecting institutions (including museums and scientific research organizations) are collaborators in the project. The collaboration further extends to Australian government departments, including the Department of Communication, Information Technology and the Arts (DCITA) through the Collections Australia Network (CAN), the Department of the Environment and Heritage through the Australian Biological Resources Study (ABRS), and the National Oceans Office (NOO). 

Software for OZCAM was built by KE Software, who had already implemented a similar system for the Australian Herbarium community. The Collections Australia Network (then Australian Museums Online (AMOL)) provided expertise, a technical developer/programmer and the Web server, and the museums provided project management and, of course, the data. The partnership of the museums, CAN (AMOL) and KE Software proved to be very successful, completing the initial stages of the project in very tight timeframes and on budget.

Description Of The Site

Currently the faunal groups available for searching are reptiles and amphibians, fishes, one group of insects (dung beetles), and mammals. Other faunal groups continue to be added. A project funded by the Global Biodiversity Information Facility DIGIT program will see images added for vertebrate type specimens, including birds, and new records for molluscs. Another project will see data for more marine invertebrate groups become available, starting with barnacles.

There are two access levels, 'public' and 'club'. Users with club level access are mainly those whose institutions are members of CHAFC. Club level access is password-protected, and these users are able to access full data records from each institution's collections.  Users accessing the public level search have access to all records available to club level users; however, they are presented with fewer fields (specimen identifier and precise collection location are unavailable), and the latitudes and longitudes for the collection location are 'fuzzed' by up to 10 minutes of a degree.  This fuzzing of coordinates is designed to protect the exact collection location of the specimen, particularly important if the species is rare or endangered.

Description Of Search, Display And Download Functions

To search the collections, users visit the gateway and opt to Search Australia's Fauna.  The Australia's Fauna search page allows users to conduct detailed searches across most of the record fields (Figure 1).

Screen Shot: The search screen

Fig 1. The search screen for the OZCAM, Australia’s Fauna Web site,

The compulsory fields for searching are genus and/or species, and users can optionally constrain their search by group (e.g. mammals), specimen type (e.g. holotype), locality, State or Territory, and latitude and longitude.  Users are also able to limit their searches by data source. There are currently 22 data sources, and the search can be limited by institution (e.g. Museum Victoria or the South Australian Museum), or by faunal group (e.g. only search reptile data). Alternatively, the search can be made by common name for mammals only.

The user may also define the maximum number of records to be returned from each data source. Finally, the user can elect to turn off the system default of a 15 minute cache of the search.

The search interface allows users to request results be returned as mapped points, where the specimen records matching the user's query are plotted on a map of Australia, or as data. In the map display, the points are colour-coded and can represent different genus/species combinations or indicate which institution provided the data. The results also show the status of the data sources so that users can see if a particular data source is available or not, or if it has timed out and not returned any results.

The map display, an example of which is shown in Figure 2, allows users to pan and to zoom in or out. The query may also be further refined from the map display, on the club site only, by the user's drawing a bounding box to restrict the returned matches by geographic area.

Screen Shot: a map display of records returned

Figure 2. An example of a map display of records returned from a search of the genus Macropus, a genus of kangaroos, on the OZCAM, Australia's Fauna Web site, 

Each point shown on the map represents one or more specimen records. Points may be individually queried to drill down into the data records. The map display also allows users to turn on and off various map layers, which can include topographical or habitat features. If the map is drawn by species the different species are also represented as layers which can be turned on or off. A legend provides details of the numbers of records returned per species or per institution and provides another way to navigate from the map page into the data records.

If users opt for results to be returned as data then they are presented with a list of specimens matching their query.  At this point users can select to view the specimen record of their choice. An example of a specimen record is shown in Figure 3.

Screen Shot: an individual specimen record of Choerodon sugillatum

Figure 3. An example of an individual specimen record of Choerodon sugillatum, the Wedge-tailed tuskfish, on the OZCAM, Australia's Fauna Web site,

As well as being able to view individual specimen records, users are able to download data for specimen matches returned in their search. The amount of data available to be downloaded is restricted in the public site. These data are available in a number of formats: HTML, comma or tilde separated values, text, DiGIR format and in the internal XML format used by the KE Portal.

Technical Operation Of The Web Site

The technical infrastructure for the Australia's Fauna gateway is comprised of a number of components: the KE Portal, KE Mapper, and a number of 'wrappers' hosted on institutional Web sites. The portal software can communicate with any database engine capable of providing Web data. Currently the system interfaces with KE EMu, KE Texpress, ORACLE, My SQL, Access and other data sources. This provides a great deal of flexibility for institutions to develop or retain their own institutional processes and Web publishing protocols rather than being shoe-horned into a particular database structure and methodology. This also allows the OZCAM, Australia's Fauna to have  decentralized data sources and a distributed search model. Data providers retain maximum control over their data and are easily able to update their data. As well as supporting the custom wrappers, the KE Portal also supports DiGIR data sources, allowing further connectivity options.

In a typical query, the user requests records via the search interface, and the KE portal distributes this request to each data source concurrently using HTTP GET or POST queries.  The wrappers are essentially middleware that interpret queries from the KE portal, communicate with institutional databases, and return XML documents containing specimen records.  These XML documents are conformant with the OZCAM XML data schema which is available at  This schema describes a container format for the response and a record format.  Each XML response provides descriptive information about the repository hosted by the institution, the number of records available, and any errors resulting from badly formed requests. The portal sorts the data and presents the results. Each thread to a data source has an arbitrary timeout (currently set at 45 seconds but can be changed by the portal administrator). If the data source is timed out, the summary of searched data sources will report the timeout.

The record format returned by each wrapper is currently a subset of the fields defined in the Darwin Core version 1.2 2003 standard (  These fields were selected on the basis that all institutions would be able to provide data for most, if not all fields. A planned development to the gateway is to move to a new schema that incorporates the full Darwin Core dataset for Darwin Core version 1.2 2003 as well as a number of elements of the proposed Darwin Core 2 ( A summary of the current record format appears below:

Mandatory fields

  • Genus: The taxonomic genus to which the specimen belongs.
  • Species: The taxonomic species to which the specimen belongs.
  • Latitude: The latitude of the collection location expressed as decimal degrees.
  • Longitude: The longitude of the collection location expressed as decimal degrees.
  • Identifier: A unique alphanumeric value which identifies an individual record within the collection. The OZCAM identifier will be in the form ozcam:[institutionIdentifier]:[recordIdentifier]  e.g. ozcam:am:98/07/5-1a

Optional fields

  • Type Status: Examples are holotype, paratype, syntype
  • Common Name: Common name, if available, drawn from a controlled list.
  • Group: General description of the group, e.g. mammals or reptiles.
  • Higher Classification: The classification above family to which the specimen belongs.
  • Family: The taxonomic family to which the specimen belongs.
  • Subspecies: The taxonomic subspecies to which the specimen belongs.
  • Country: The country or major political unit from which the specimen was collected. The full, unabbreviated country name as listed in ISO 3166-1 should be used.
  • State/Territory: The full, unabbreviated name of the state or territory from where the specimen was collected.
  • Locality: The locality from which the specimen was collected. This should include a recognized place name drawn from a gazetteer
  • Elevation/Depth: The elevation (m) above (+ve) or below(-ve) sea level of the collection point.
  • Collection Date: The date the specimen was collected. The value should be expressed in ISO 8601 format.
  • ImageURL: A URL for the location of related images
  • Collector: The name of the collector(s) responsible for collecting the specimen.
  • Habitat: A description of the habitat of the specimen.
  • Notes: Notes associated with the specimen record.
  • Endemicity: A description of whether the species in endemic or introduced to the geographic area from which it was collected.

Future Developments For OZCAM, Australia's Fauna

One significant future development for the OZCAM, Australia's Fauna gateway, as previously discussed, is to upgrade the data schema to full Darwin Core. A second significant future development relates to the portal itself. The aim and focus of KE EMu portal software development has been to enable the portal to interoperate with other open standard data sharing tools and protocols (e.g. DiGIR, OAI etc). This will allow members of an EMu portal to participate in these other environments without requiring them to set up separate interfaces: the EMu portal would act as a 'proxy' for them when dealing with these systems. The portal in effect will be able to present multiple personalities to the world whilst having access to a common set of data sources.

A related development is the facility to allow EMu portals to operate in a hierarchical fashion (daisy chaining) so that a portal not only can be a repository of several individual institutional data sources but also can interrogate (or be interrogated by) other portals. As an example, one portal may have direct contact with institutional data sources within Australia (such as the current OZCAM, Australia's Fauna system).  Another portal, such as the Australian GBIF node, may sit further up the hierarchy and be able to treat the first portal as a single data source. All of this functionality is dependent upon the existence of open standards for sharing data, including data representation  (XML), communication protocols (e.g. SOAP, OAI, DiGIR etc), and data description schemes (e.g. Dublin Core, Darwin Core etc). 

A final future development is for OZCAM, Australia's Fauna to reference a master names list for taxonomic names. Examples of such master names lists are those collated by the Species 2000 project ( or the Australian Faunal Directory collated by ABRS ( Taxonomic names often change as revisions and new scientific research is being conducted. Having a single authority list of currently accepted species names is much easier to maintain and update than multiple lists kept by each data provider.


Natural sciences collections store a wealth of information; if only it can be made accessible. Individual specimens and the data records associated with them do not make compelling reading. However, when these data can be aggregated and presented in a graphical format, such as points plotted on a map, meanings about species abundance and distribution can be drawn. This paper has discussed meaning-making for natural sciences specimens using the OZCAM, Australia's Fauna gateway as an example. This collaboration of Australian natural sciences institutions in presenting their collections on-line represents a significant advance in how museums can bring their 'dusty old specimens' back to life.


The authors would like to thank other key participants in the development of the OZCAM, Australia's Fauna project – Dr Ken Walker (Museum Victoria), Dr Leslie Christidis (Australian Museum), Dr Patrick Filmer-Sankey, Robyn Lawrence (ABRS) and Jonathon Kelly (KE Software, Australia) as well as members of the CHAFC, Australia and data providers around the country. The development of the OZCAM, Australia's Fauna website was funded by the Australian Government Department of the Environment and Heritage through ABRS, the National Oceans Office, the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts and the Global Biodiversity Information Facility.


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Cite as:

Wallis, E., B. Dewhurst and A. Brooks, Deriving Meaning From Specimens: Making Zoological Data Available On The Web, in J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds.). Museums and the Web 2005: Proceedings, Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics, published March 31, 2005 at