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Developing Data Resources for Calflora: Checklists

For several years Calflora has been looking for high quality checklists (AKA floristic surveys, botanical inventories). In areas where we have succeeded in finding such lists, often with the help of local CNPS chapters, the results have been rewarding. In an area of the state well-covered by checklist data,

  1. the map-based applications What Grows Here? and Places to view California Native Plants work at their best, showing users the full range of floristic diversity; and
  2. botanists doing field work in the area have a useful baseline of what plants to look for.
The presumption is that there are many more checklists out there which have not yet been contributed to Calflora. The challenge is to find them, get permission, and get them entered into Calflora. This page describes the process.

Qualities of an Ideal Checklist

  • The area covered by the list is relatively small; for instance, one trail within a State Park.
  • The botanist responsible for the list is known, is still alive, is contactable, and agrees to contribute the list to Calflora.
  • Dates when the plants were observed are available.
  • The area covered by the list is available in coordinates, or is well enough described to be findable on a map.
  • Plants are reliably identified.
  • The list is available in some electronic form.
  • The list is complete; that is, an attempt has been made to mention all plants in the covered area.
Checklists that do not have all of these qualities are often still quite useful. The most important quality is reliability of plant identification. Knowing who the responsible botanists are can help determine the reliability of a list.

Finding Checklists via Google

Using Google search, it is possible to find many checklists which have been published online. One approach to searching is to include "checklist" (or another equivalent name) as a search term, such as:

	"plant checklist"
	"botanical survey"
	"botanical inventory"
	"floristic survey"
	"floristic inventory"
	"plant species list"
	"floral compendium"
To limit the results, it is also useful to include "California" as a search term. Another effective technique for limiting results is to include the name of a common California plant -- for instance, you might include Rhus ovata for coastal Southern California, or Quercus agrifolia for the coast ranges. Including a plant name will influence the search results in two positive directions: 1. the documents found will actually mention plants by scientific name, and 2. if it is a plant that only grows in California, the documents found will actually be about places in California. A complete Google search specification might look like this:
	"plant checklist" California "Quercus agrifolia"
This search produces the following results.

There are quite a few results on this page that look promising. At the time of writing, the second result is this:

This document is in fact a checklist with scientific names, so we will use it as an example below.

What information is available about the list?

    Responsible Botanist and Contact Information
    In the example document, it is clear that the responsible botanist is Wayne P. Armstrong at Palomar College. Following the links, it is possible to discover an email address, but also a scary sounding copyright policy. Next step: contact the botanist (Dr. Armstrong in this case) and ask for permission to use the plant list on Calflora.

    If you contact the botanist responsible for the list, ntroduce yourself as a volunteer with Calflora. Arguments in favor of granting permission include

    1. it is a public service to allow Calflora users to see the checklist data in the context of other contributed data; and
    2. the checklist record on Calflora will link back to the source web page (in this case the Jack's Pond page), so that interested users will end up going to the source page for more information.

    Source Institution
    When a checklist appears on Calflora, there is a slot for Source, which might be the botanist herself, or a government entity or commercial organization which commissioned the plant survey, or a not-for-profit organization whose mission is protection of some area. It is important to know whatever institutions were involved in the preparation and dissemination of the list, in order to give due credit. In one checklist record, the value of Source is

    	City of Paso Robles; Padre Associates
    indicating that the checklist was comissioned and published on the web by the City of Paso Robles, but that the checklist was prepared by Padre Associates.

    In the example document, it appears that the contributor would be the botanist himself.

    In the example document, May, 2000. If multiple dates are specified, use the most recent. If no date is specified, ask for the most recent date when contacting the botanist.

    Tips for Finding the Location
    Using What Grows Here? / Find a Location in California, and searching for a location named "jack" in San Diego Co. produces this result. The entry called "Jacks Pond Park" looks like the place. What Grows Here? shows it as just east of San Marcos (view), or at 33.1306, -117.141.

    Using Google Maps to search for

    	jack's pond, san marcos, california
    produces this result, which confirms the result above.


Technical Considerations: How to enter a checklist

Actually entering data into Calflora can be either very fun or very intimidating. It is fun in that you get to see the map applications change as a direct result of your effort. However, if you have found a good checklist, obtained permission, but do not want to do the data entry, please contact Calflora and someone else will take care of entering it.

If you do want to do the data entry, here is how: Bring up the checklist entry application. (You will need to register as a contributor before using this application to enter data.) More details about using this page are available here.

Find the location of the checklist on the Google Map, and enter the other data, including observers, source institution, and date. If the list came from a web page, include the URL at the bottom of the form.

To enter plant names press Plant List. In the panel that appears, press Add a list of names. At this point, you want to be able to paste a list of scientific plant names, one per line, into the text area.

    How to extract plant names from a document
    If the source document is a spreadsheet, and one column contains the whole scientific name, then just copy that column and paste it into the text area.

    If the source document is an HTML page, and the scientific names are formatted neatly in a table, you may be able to copy this text with the browser, then paste it into the text area in the entry application. For instance, if you are able to copy the following text:

      Artemisia californica Coastal Sagebrush
      Baccharis glutinosa Mule Fat
      Baccharis pilularis ssp. consanguinea Coyote Brush
      Baccharis sarothroides Chaparral Broom
      Brickellia californica var. californica Brickellbush
      Centaurea melitensis Tocalote *
    this will work just fine, because the entry application ignores any words after the scientific name.

    In the worst case, if the source document is an HTML page or a PDF page and the plant names are interspersed among other text, you may need to resort to the following procedure.

    1. Go to the CNPLX checklist entry page. Enter the URL of the source document. Press the Scan button.
    2. If the scan is successful, you will see a list of plants on a result page. Use the browser to copy the entire list of plants. (Don't worry about common name, lifeform, etc.)
    3. Paste the list into the text area of the checklist entry application.
Close the Plant List panel and press the SAVE button.
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