Ecological Flora of California: Results of support provided by California Biodiversity Center

  
            The Ecological Flora of California (EFC) is a new online supplement to the Jepson Flora Project, under development by David Ackerly (Associate Professor in IB and Curator of Ecology in the Jepson Herbarium). The EFC will provide a comprehensive database of ecological characteristics for native and naturalized plants of California, directly linked to the phylogenetic and floristic resources of the Jepson Flora Project. Ecological trait databases are in great demand worldwide, and in general lag behind the development of comparable molecular (e.g. Genbank) and phylogenetic (TREEBase) data repositories that provide the foundations for cutting-edge synthetic and interdisciplinary biological research. The EFC is a prime example of the integration of ecological information into core strengths of museum-based research in systematics and biodiversity. CBC has provided one of the three primary sources of support for development of the EFC, and a pilot database has been created and is available online (see http://ucjeps.berkeley.edu/efc).

            CBC funding provided support for three facets of the EFC:

            1) The Baker data: The initial inspiration for the EFC was based on the extensive ecological research of Herbert Baker, professor in the Dept. of Botany at UCB from 1957 until his death as an emeritus professor in 2001. Baker collected an extensive data set on reproductive characteristics for several thousand species of California plants, recorded on 5x7 file cards. Most of these data were never analyzed or published by Baker, and their existence was known only to a few of his students and colleagues. CBC funding supported post-doc Will Cornwell, who designed a database to store the information on Baker's cards. The cards themselves are now safeguarded in the archives of the Jepson Herbarium, and a Heckard Fund grant is supporting data entry by an undergraduate.

            2) Core traits: A second goal of the EFC is to create a comprehensive database of 'core traits' for all the native and naturalized plants of California, in conjunction with the publication of the second edition of the Jepson Manual, the standard flora for the state. These traits represent a set of attributes that can be scored by a knowledgeable expert, and would provide the first-ever consistent database of ecological characteristics for a regional flora in the US (analogous projects are underway for parts of Europe). CBC funding paid for post-doc Reyes Tirado who conducted extensive literature research to develop the core traits list, and provide a solid foundation in the ecological literature for the selection and definition of the traits. These core traits will include the results of an extensive project, currently underway in the Ackerly lab, to project the potential impacts of climate change on plant species in California.

            3) Advisory Board: Ackerly invited eight leading plant ecologists from different institutions in California to serve as an Advisory Board for the project. CBC funding paid for an initial one-day meeting of the Advisory Board in June 2005. The board plays a critical role in establishing broad-based support for the project across multiple institutions, and they also provided valuable input into the development of the core traits list described above.      

David Ackerly

May 1, 2007