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BG-BASE is a database application written primarily to handle the information management needs of institutions and individuals holding living and/or preserved collections of biological material, including botanic gardens, arboreta, zoos, herbaria, museums, libraries, university campuses, horticultural societies and private collections.

The objective is to develop and share a standard design that ensures compatibility, and at the same time one that allows for fine-tuning to meet specific individual needs. The result is a powerful, well proven system that not only facilitates basic inventory control, but also enables users to fully document, label and curate their collections so that these collections, no matter how large or small, can be of the highest possible value to the research, conservation and education communities. BG-BASE is compatible with relevant international data standards.

Initiated in 1985 at the request of the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University in Boston (US) and the Threatened Plants Unit (TPU) of the World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC) in Cambridge (UK), it is now used around the world. The system is regularly updated and enhanced based on user input; its two development and support centers are BG-BASE (UK) Ltd. in Edinburgh, Scotland and BG-BASE, Inc., located in Dallas, Texas (US).

BG-BASE is designed to manage information in six broad categories:

  1. collection management (living collections, herbarium and museum collections, seed banks, DNA repositories, etc.)
  2. taxonomy / nomenclature (any level from kingdom down to sub-form, cultivar, cultivar group, etc.)
  3. distribution (from global down to exact latitude/longitude)
  4. bibliography (books, journals, unpublished references, images, etc.)
  5. conservation (threats, conservation status, protected areas, laws and conventions, etc.)
  6. people management (addresses, institutional affiliations, education programs, events tracking, etc.).

Its aim is to provide a seamless interface to taxon-, specimen-, bibliographic-, image- and geographically-based information. Instead of having separate database systems for each of these kinds of data, they can be managed using a single, fully integrated system. BG-BASE is unique in offering this breadth and depth of information management across such a wide range of topics.



BG-BASE can be used on stand-alone machines or as part of a Local Area Network (LAN). BG-BASE is composed of a series of modules, each of which links with the other modules using shared fields / tables and a common user interface that does as much or as little as the user requires. Within the modules information on a wide range of topics can be managed:

  1. living collections (including propagation and horticultural tasks)
  2. herbarium and other museum specimens (including loans, gifts, exchanges, label production, etc.)
  3. collecting notebooks (can be used in the field on a laptop or tablet)
  4. gene banks
  5. DNA sequences
  6. nomenclature
  7. taxonomy
  8. bibliography (published and unpublished)
  9. images
  10. gazetteers
  11. geographic distributions
  12. floristic and faunistic surveys
  13. protected areas
  14. conservation status (local, national and global; including threats, population dynamics, etc.)
  15. national and international conservation laws and conventions
  16. institutional and individual contacts
  17. education programs
  18. events and facilities tracking
  19. institutional and personal calendars.

No single installation of BG-BASE uses all of its modules or functionality; rather, each uses a different subset of the whole. However, all users are fully compatible with one another because all share the same field definitions in a common data dictionary. In addition to the standard fields, there are 5-10 user-defined fields in each major database table that can be used to meet specific needs.

This unsurpassed flexibility is possible because BG-BASE is built on a relational database management system whose variable-length and multivalue field technology permits all BG-BASE users to share the same structure and master data dictionary without wasting data storage space for fields and tables that they are not currently using. Since any field or record can vary in length, there is never a need to truncate a long piece of information - such as a scientific name or the title of a book - because the system expands and contracts to fit the data automatically. Not only does variable-length field technology eliminate the need to truncate data (or the need to redesign the database when a longer piece of information needs to be stored), it also results in a tremendous space savings compared to the more typical fixed-length field design employed by most databases. Data storage requirements are generally about 30 to 35 times smaller than what fixed-length field systems need to store the same data since BG-BASE fields are not padded out to a predetermined size as they are in Access, dBASE, FoxPro, Paradox, etc.

There is no limit to the number of records that can be stored in the system, other than limitations of hard disk space. There is also no limit to the number of records that may be stored per database table.

Each field has context-sensitive help associated with it. Because of the variable-length nature of the underlying database, BG-BASE sites may choose to use or not use any particular fields (some fields are, of course, required and are defined as such in the system's data dictionary) without storing blank spaces for unused fields and without sacrificing compatibility with other BG-BASE sites. Users can later choose to use any field that they had previously not used, without affecting the existing data. The system maintains hundreds of indexes in real time; these indexes allow for full-word, partial-word searches.

What kinds of questions can BG-BASE answer?
There is virtually no limit to the number and kinds of questions that BG-BASEcan answer (assuming that the appropriate information has been entered into the system!). The powerful query tool S/LIST Report Builder supplied with each installation is enhanced by a wide variety of BG-BASE-specific query tools and reports. Examples of the types of questions that can easily be answered include:

  1. where can I find Protea compacta in the collection?
  2. how many living accessions do we have in the garden?
  3. what is the oldest tree in the collection?
  4. what was our source for accession 2013.1327?
  5. what accessions were wild collected in China? in Sichuan, China? after 1993?
  6. what plants are alive in location F17? were ever in bed 27.31?
  7. when did we last do an inventory of the rock garden?
  8. when did we get our first accession of Metasequoia glyptostroboides?
  9. what accessions did we get as seed from Fairchild Tropical Garden in 1994?
  10. where have we sent material of Magnolia delavayi?
  11. when were the engraved labels for accession 19981331 ordered? - produced?
  12. how many barcode labels did we produce last year?
  13. what frozen seed do we have that was collected before 2005?
  14. how long has it taken Phlomis olgaeto germinate in the past?
  15. what rooting hormones have we successfully used on Jasminum humile?
  16. what cuttings from Brazil died in quarantine? what were the causes of death?
  17. when was the last time that bed 57 was fertilized?
  18. how often has accession 18954217*A been pruned?
  19. how much have we spent on weed killers this year?
  20. what pink flowered shrubs shorter than 2 ft. flower in May?
  21. what is the correct name of Narcissus major?
  22. what are the synonyms of Tetradium fraxinifolium?
  23. what other species are in the same subgenus as Rhododendron fongkaiense?
  24. what genera are in the aster family? how many were named by Lanais?
  25. what multigeneric hybrids have been created using the genus Oncidiumas a parent?
  26. how many nurseries supply Silene uniflora'Robin Whitebreast'? what are their phone numbers and opening hours? do they sell retail as well as wholesale?
  27. how many determinations are there for herbarium specimen 392217? under which name is it currently filed?
  28. what is the holotype of Iris lacustris? in which herbarium is it deposited?
  29. what herbarium specimens are on loan to CONN? when are they due back?
  30. what specimens have we borrowed from Berlin since 1994? have they all been returned?
  31. when were the Chilean expedition specimen labels printed?
  32. where were the duplicates for herbarium specimen 97183 sent?
  33. what is our herbarium exchange/gift balance with the Arnold Arboretum?
  34. what herbarium specimens do we have that were collected by E.H. Wilson?
  35. is any E.H. Wilson material alive in the collection? where is it located?
  36. what species of Rosaceae are native to Australia? which have been introduced?
  37. what species are covered by CITES Appendix I? do we have any in our collection?
  38. what is the conservation status of Masdevallia walteri?
  39. what is the native range of Tillandsia xerographica?
  40. in which countries has Bellis perennisbeen naturalized?
  41. how rare is Gnaphalium helleri var. micradeniumin Maine?
  42. what protected areas are there in Turkey? is Crocus abatensis protected in any of them?
  43. what is the ITS1 gene sequence for Berberidopsis corallina?
  44. what images of orchids do we have that were taken in Cuba?
  45. what black and white images in a horizontal format show the leaves and bark of Prunus avium?
  46. what bibliographic references mention Rosa? what floras cover Anacardiaceae?
  47. what journal articles published after 2010 mention conservation in Portugal?
  48. who borrowed copy 2 of Hortus Third?
  49. what is the fax number of the Singapore Botanic Gardens? - email? - address? - home page?
  50. what was the last newsletter we sent to Fred Cook?
  51. what classes has Jane Doe taken?
  52. what events are scheduled for the Auditorium next week?
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