Center for Biodiversity Informatics

The Center for Biodiversity Informatics (CBI) at the Missouri Botanical Garden seeks to provide innovative technology solutions to the global community of life science scholars in order to mobilize, integrate, and repatriate data about the world's biodiversity.

Biodiversity informatics is defined as the creation, integration, analysis, and understanding of information regarding biological diversity. Currently, efforts are underway to make the vast, decentralized resources of global biodiversity information available in digital form. Imposing consistency and compatibility among the scores of searchable databases on the world's biota is an enormous challenge within the field.

Biodiversity informatics is a relatively young field, with the term being coined in 1992. There are hundreds of practitioners around the world, including numerous people involved with the design and construction of taxonomic databases. "Biodiversity informatics" is a term generally used in the broad sense to apply to computerized handling of any biodiversity information. The broader term "bioinformatics" is often used to describe the computerized handling of data in the specialized area of molecular biology.


CBI has three major objectives:

  1. Mobilize biodiversity data to support the research activities of scientists and students around the world. The global community of life science scholars requires high quality data for use in biodiversity research projects and analyses. CBI assists in the publication of such data through its leadership role in the development of the Missouri Botanical Garden's Tropicos botanical dataset and the Biodiversity Heritage Library. These repositories provide primary, authoritative data used in systematics, conservation, ecological restoration, sustainable land management, and all other areas of life science research.
  1. Increase usability of biodiversity information by advocating the open and transparent publication of data. There exists a wealth of primary data on the world's biota, but much of it is held in closed systems. In order to make these data available to the widest audience possible, barriers between content holders and consumers need to be removed by publishing data in ways that provide attribution to their source, but do not impede access.
  1. Encourage responsible stewardship of biodiversity information through adoption of community standards. Biodiversity datasets are most easily exchanged and integrated into other efforts when published according to community standards. CBI plays an important role in the stewardship of data through active participation in writing and extending international biodiversity data standards.

Projects and Sponsors

The Missouri Botanical Garden's Tropicos dataset is the largest single repository of scholarly botanical information made freely available online. Tropicos contains more than 3.7 million records documenting the occurrence of the world's plant species, as well as their nomenclatural and taxonomic relationships. The development of Tropicos has been sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Institute for Museum and Library Services. Tropicos is online at

Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL)
The BHL is a global community of natural history libraries and research institutions who have formed a partnership to digitize and make available the world's biodiversity literature. BHL is online at BHL is sponsored by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloane Foundation through their funding of Encyclopedia of Life (, and by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation for activities to build BHL repositories on multiple continents to safeguard the digital materials published online through BHL partners' digitization activities.

MBG Library Rare Books
More than 3,000 rare and unique volumes held by the Missouri Botanical Garden Library have been digitized and published online through open access means in the Biodiversity Heritage Library. These digitization efforts have been funded by the Trio Foundation of St. Louis and the Mellon Foundation.

Digitizing Engelmann's Legacy
The Missouri Botanical Garden has been funded to digitize and create an online public display of the Engelmann Herbarium of plant specimens. The approximately 8,000 specimens gathered during pioneering expeditions into the American West following those of Lewis and Clark are the first scientific records of the plants growing in the vast wilderness west of the Mississippi River. The collection forms the earliest verifiable documentation of species occurrences in that pristine landscape, before the rapid migration west permanently altered the landscapes through human introduction of non-native invasive species. These specimens provide a historic complement to the 3.7 million specimens already accessible through Tropicos. "Digitalizing Engelmann's Legacy," is online at