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Web key helps researchers identify mammals

CHICAGO A Field Museum scientist has come up with a novel way of putting the museums enormous collection of artifacts and specimens to use around the world.

With more than 21 million items, The Field Museums collection is an ideal place for researchers to identify various faunas from many countries or regions. For example, the museum has an extensive collection of skulls and skins of mammals found in Tanzania. The challenge, however, is to find ways to give researchers worldwide including Tanzanian biologists access to the collection.

To meet this challenge, William Stanley, The Field Museums collection manager of mammals, has organized images and descriptions of the skulls and skins of mammals found in Tanzania on a Web site in English and Kiswahili. "This allows scientists, students and educators, anyone, in fact, to reach through the Web and open a drawer in The Field Museum and study what they find there," Stanley says.

But the site, which will launch in late June, is not just a list. Rather, it is structured as a taxonomic key to identify mammals. By answering a series of either-or questions, someone with a skull or skin specimen in hand can narrow down the possibilities until he or she identifies the specimen. Each question is accompanied by images (photographs and/or drawings) illustrating the difference between the two choices presented.

This easy-to-use tool is the first Web-based key to Tanzanian mammals. In addition, it relies on a full set of images to differentiate one mammal from another. This differs from the traditional textbook approach, which relies on the written descriptions for identification. Finally, it is easier to update a Web-based guide with new findings than to update a textbook.

The Field Museum does not have a complete set of skulls or skins for all Tanzanian mammals, so Stanley had to round out the set by photographing specimens at the Smithsonian Institution. And he turned to students at the Art
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Contact: Greg Borzo
gborzo@fieldmuseum.org
312-665-7106
Field Museum
26-Jun-2001


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