Henry Moore 'Prometheus on the Rock' (1950)
  Our two last BBSRC-funded projects are:

Prometheus is a joint project between the DOSG group at Napier University and the Royal Botanic Garden of Edinburgh. It is supported by BBSRC under the Bioinformatics initiative under the grant numbers 95/BIF10516 and 754/BIF10518.

A Taxonomic Database Supporting Multiple Overlapping Hierarchies


project aims

The task confronting taxonomists today is to catalogue biodiversity to facilitate conservation decisions in the face of rapid habitat loss. There are many alternative classifications for the same group of specimens and attempting to produce a single consensus nomenclature will slow down this vital work. Taxonomists must therefore work with several classifications, without judgment as to which is "correct". Despite increasing use of computers in taxonomy, no extant database adequately supports multiple classifications; such systems are therefore suited only to representational and not investigative taxonomy. We address these problems by proposing a database system based on careful analysis of taxonomists' working practices, which will allow one to switch between classifications, and to compare and contrast them in an even-handed manner.

The aim of the project is to construct a database system that will meet the requirements of current taxonomy practices. In particular, it will allow taxonomists to view and explore alternative classifications. The system will support provision of single authoritative classifications for use by non-taxonomists such as legislators. As a test application, taxonomists at RBGE will produce a revision of a plant group using the Prometheus system.



  complete description of the project.  

project team

  some simple animations illustrating taxonomic classification  
  publications and posters  
  A demonstration version of Prometheus is accessible via the web. This version provides a simple interface to one of the datasets we use for testing. The address of the server is  
  All comments are welcome: prometheus@rbge.org.uk.  
  An associated PhD project by Martin Graham has been investigating the visualisation issues associated with the data handled by Prometheus. A demo version of the prototype is accessible on the web.  
  The Prometheus system is available for download (with a blank database, the Apium dataset, or the Globba dataset, and some documentation).  
  If you are interested in the Globba data set, you can also see the process of a revision using this data. Note that for this link you will require Netscape version 6 or higher or download the Java 1.4 Plug In for Internet Explorer. (More help)  
  Local private access.  

A Methodology for Composing Well-Defined Character Descriptions.

project aims
Taxonomy has been described as “the science of documenting biodiversity”, which involves collecting, naming, describing, identifying and classifying specimens of organisms. Descriptions are the fundamental information units used in the process of constructing classifications and communicating taxonomic concepts. The quality of stored description data is limited by the lack of a formal model and methodology for composing specimen descriptions, and by the absence of an agreed defined terminology. This impedes the communication, interpretation and reuse of original descriptions. Prometheus is developing a novel approach to composing and recording taxonomic descriptions of botanical specimens. An underlying model for creating character descriptions has been developed together with a process for creating an ontology of defined terms, which will be used to compose these description elements. It is hoped that these developments will facilitate the unambiguous interpretation of descriptions and enhance the taxonomic process.
  Description of the Project Goals  
  Local private access