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March 4, 2009

ULM receives almost $500,000 for “CyberFlora Louisiana” project

The National Science Foundation announced a total award of almost $500,000 to the University of Louisiana at Monroe for a three-year project that will digitize the images and data of more than one million plant specimens in 15 Louisiana herbaria.

The project, "CyberFlora Louisiana," is the brainchild of Associate Professor of Biology Thomas Sasek, and is one of the first statewide projects of its kind; CyberFlora Louisiana will serve as a model for other state networks.

New software and cutting-edge technology has opened up the possibility of collecting the information, and includes plans to develop an electronic statewide database featuring all of the 1.1-million plant specimens in Louisiana, of which 475,000 are housed at the ULM Museum of Natural History.

“Certainly our primary focus in developing a statewide database was for the scientific community,” said Sasek. “But we would also like to encourage teachers and their students to utilize the database as an educational tool.”

The digitized images and data will be freely available through a central website that, once completed, will offer fast data sorting and filtering, rapid delivery of images, mapping of specimen locations, and checklists of plants for particular locations, said Sasek.

The website will also feature digital images of live plants, plant parts, and identifying features for species found in Louisiana, according to Sasek, who added that visual identification keys will be developed to aid the general public unfamiliar with scientific terminology.

U.S. Congressman Rodney Alexander of Louisiana’s fifth district was quick to praise the project’s value.

“I applaud ULM for being a pioneer in the online collection of plant information,” said Alexander. “I am confident that this project will help increase the awareness of plants indigenous to our state, and the importance of their conservation.”

The first award, effective March 1, came in the amount of $317,070. The NSF will award an additional $101,665 in the second year and $80,244 in the third year, assuming funding availability and scientific progress in the project, for a total award amount of $498,979.

For more information about the project, contact Dr. Sasek at (318) 342-1792 or

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