Guest post: Plantwise Knowledge Bank Map

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Published on: October 25, 2012

Tim Holmes works for CABI, a not-for-profit international organization that improves people’s lives by providing information and applying scientific expertise to solve problems in agriculture and the environment. Plantwise is an initiative, led by CABI, to improve food security and the lives of the rural poor by reducing crop losses. It is for the Plantwise Knowledge Bank, that Tim tackles the challenge of presenting species distribution data to a diverse group of users.

Plantwise is the biggest project that the whole of CABI has ever been engaged in together. It brings together all the strands of our work, from the publishing business, through scientific research, to international development. The Knowledge Bank is my bit of the programme, and something I’m immensely proud of. We’ve been developing a suite of data and information tools over the last few years, and it’s to one of these that I’d like to introduce you now.

The Plantwise Knowledge Bank Map was the first tool concept that we presented back in 2010, and straight away it was our number one priority to make it a reality. The genesis was a crude, but cool looking, Google Earth presentation of CABI’s plant pest distribution data. The globe spun and zoomed impressively, but it wasn’t going to be the useful scientific tool that we were after. For starters you couldn’t see the whole of the Earth’s surface at once; problematic if you wanted to get a Baumgartner’s-Eye view of the worldwide range of a pest! It was problematic too if you wanted to build it into a website that would fling around large datasets AND do so for users with restricted internet bandwidth. So we trialled many different bits of mapping software and settled on something that would display a Google Maps-style projection and would let us do as much of the map production leg-work on our servers. It would be familiar and fast.

From the early versions, the Map has been steadily improved to show more information, without compromising the user experience. Where you could once plot the known locations of a single species you can now plot three, enabling pest-pest and some pest-host comparisons. Where there were once just basic country outlines, now there are attractive maps and the option to view climate-zones past, present and future. Where data from CABI’s published products stood alone, now they are joined by project data from field studies by CABI and our data partners. This evolution moves us in an exciting direction, away from a static representation of knowledge at a fixed time point towards a tool that updates regularly with diverse information from many sources. The scale of data is improving too; country-level reports are being supplemented with on-the-ground reports with precise locations.

The best way I can explain why I think we’ve put together something special is to invite you to come in and play. See for yourself; have a dig around in the Knowledge Bank; decide what’s useful to you and let us know so we can make those tools even better. Tell us what doesn’t work, and we can apply ourselves to fixing them! If you enjoyed this post, maybe you’d like to hear from us again about the other KB components like our Diagnostic Search Tool, or Factsheets?

Note from Charis: You can see my guest post on the Plantwise blog here.

Images: Plantwise logo, CABI; Screenshot from Plantwise Knowledge Bank Map, CABI.  



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