Online access to a world of grass

Grass2

“GrassPortal will provide a single point of access for scientists, researchers, and students to an extraordinary range of grass data. Bringing these disparate resources together will allow new areas of research and study to open up, and help save researchers time when searching for crucial information,” Ben Showers, programme manager at JISC, which has funded the work.

U. SHEFFIELD (UK)—GrassPortal, a new online resource for scientists and the public, will allow any of the world’s 11,000 species of grasses to be defined by its geographical range, climate preferences, and evolutionary relationships to other species.

The project, led by scientists from the University of Sheffield, is designed to help researchers understand the biology and threats to these vital species, offering access to evolutionary and ecological data on the world’s grass species and expanding the online services currently offered by the project’s collaborator, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

“GrassPortal will provide a single point of access for scientists, researchers, and students to an extraordinary range of grass data. Bringing these disparate resources together will allow new areas of research and study to open up, and help save researchers time when searching for crucial information,” Ben Showers, programme manager at JISC, which has funded the work.

GrassPortal may be particularly useful for researchers in the fields of climate change, conservation biology, and evolutionary biology. Educational case studies and sample datasets in these areas will also be packaged as research-led teaching resources for university and school students.

Grasses are present on every continent on the planet, and play major roles in the global economy and ecosystem. They account for most of our staple food crops and livestock feeds, including rice, barley, wheat, maize, millet, and sugarcane. Grasses are the main winners from deforestation, and form grasslands which significantly influence our climate by altering the cycling of carbon and water between the land and air.

Understanding the evolutionary and ecological relationships between species is fundamental for biology, and it is believed the same scientific approach used by GrassPortal could be rolled out to cover all of the world’s half million plant species during the coming decade.

“Grasses feed human civilization and economies, and our lives would quickly fall apart without them. Understanding the biology and threats to these species is vital for humanity in the 21st century,” says GrassPortal director Colin Osborne, senior royal society university research fellow from the Department of Animal and Plant Sciences at the University of Sheffield.

GrassPortal is a collaborative project involving plant and computer scientists from the University of Sheffield, in partnership with our spin-out software company Knowledge-Now, Ltd and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Its international partners are the University of Lausanne, University of Washington, Brown University, and the University of California, Santa Barbara.

University of Sheffield news: www.shef.ac.uk/mediacentre/

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  1. Stephen W. O'Driscoll

    Can this be used to determine the extent of a grasses’ previous range and how this might have influenced the range of herbivores? It might answer some questions about animal extinctions. For example, why did horses disappear from North America but do so well when they were reintroduced?

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