History and Perspectives
- There are some very large sponge collections scattered across the world, but so few taxonomists to work on them, producing a large gap between the adequately known, the poorly known and the unknown (van Soest et al., 2012) – the Taxonomic Impediment.
- SpongeMaps grew from the frustration of individual sponge researchers working independently on largely isolated collections – often duplicating efforts to identify large quantities of specimens from extensive marine surveys – and seen as especially useful to those working in geographically adjacent regions.
- SpongeMaps was designed to move information hidden in notes, databases, image files and other isolated datasets held by individual researchers into a collaborative online workspace. It exposes these data to other researchers who together can release new knowledge of this still largely unknown phylum where there are grossly inadequate taxonomic resources to do so using conventional methods.
- SpongeMaps was not designed to take the place of other tools that facilitate detailed taxonomic descriptions – leading to the formal recognition of new taxa – but moreso to move the still vast, scattered sponge collections more rapidly from the realms of “the unknown” to “the known” using a universal OTU system. SpongeMaps thus facilitates the subsequent formal taxonomic process.
- The brief descriptions and accompanying datasets posted on SpongeMaps are intended to provide key features that allow recognition of both similarities and difference amongst specimens (that will form the basis of the next steps in the discovery of new taxa), and also more confident knowledge of the features and distributions of known taxa.
- Using multiple datasets from multiple collections – including the growing number of sponge DNA sequences) – this latter aspect was seen as an important tool to more accurately analyse species’ distributions with less reliance on the older published literature.
- The first iteration of SpongeMaps was a wiki modified from the Taxonomic Research Information Network (TRIN) Foswiki project supported with funding from the Atlas of Living Australia, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation Ecosystem Sciences, and the Marine Barcoding of Life Initiative project funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
- Initially this first iteration contained only data from the Queensland Museum Sessile Marine Invertebrate collection, numbering approximately 31,000 specimens, most identified to only OTU level and suspected of containing a large number of new taxa.
- Subsequently, data were incorporated from the Museum and Art Galleries of the Northern Territory, Western Australian Museum and Australian Institute of Marine Science sponge collections, and other Australian sponge collections soon to join.
- These Australian specimen GIS data are streamed directly to SpongeMaps from the Online Zoological Collections of Australian Museum (OZCAM) (a project of the Council of Heads of Australian Faunal Collections (CHAFC), via the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA). International specimen data can also be harvested directly from Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS).
- Species morphological and other data are uploaded directly into SpongeMaps via the Member's Area. Data are able to be uploaded individually for specimens and species, or bulk uploads of spreadsheets of large datasets can be achieved through the website - data are entered into a downloadable spreadsheet, returned to the site administrator and then incorporated into the database. Image data are hosted locally currently, and it is aimed that soon they will be hosted by MorphBank.
- Additional partners currently include the GeoBio-Centre, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munchen, Germany, which provides DNA sequence data (Sponge Barcoding Project) with reciprocal morphological data from SpongeMaps supporting sequence data in the SBP; and chemical data from the Eskitis Institute for Cell and Molecular Therapies, at Griffith University, Brisbane.
- The taxonomic lexicon that underpins SpongeMaps classification is provided by the World Porifera Database (WPD) (a product of the World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS), and the Australian Faunal Directory (a product of the Australian Biological Resources Study (ABRS)).
- International datasets will be sought once the platform is fully operational and stable, including the Porifera Tree of Life consortium (PorTOL).
- Subsequent to TRIN’s development of the SpongeMaps wiki a parallel portal was developed by the Queensland Museum using a different database engine (Caspio Bridge), which enables hosting of MSAccess-like databases online. For the next six months both the TRIN wiki and the Queensland Museum platforms will continue their parallel development as a trial to the potential revision of the TRIN Foswiki engine, with programming support from the Atlas of Living Australia.
- SpongeMaps hopes provide a useful platform to standardise sponge identification methodology, and through online collaboration improve the accuracy of the taxonomic efforts moreso than possible through efforts in isolation. SpongeMaps invites collaborators to join this still enormous task.