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MorphoBank (www.morphobank.org) is a web application with tools and archives for evolutionary research, specifically systematics (the science of determining the evolutionary relationships among species). Study of the phenotype, which is often visually-based, is central to contemporary systematics and taxonomic research. MorphoBank was developed specifically to provide much needed tools for the expansion and modernization of phylogenetic work on the phenotype. MorphoBank provides four interrelated toolsets for researchers:
one for management of uploaded images and affiliation of data with those images (labels, species names, etc.)
another that allows researchers to manage uploaded morphological data and affiliations with phylogenetic matrices.
supporting tools for managing the taxonomic names, characters and states, specimens and views used to classify images and populate phylogenetic matrices.
administrative tools for managing access, publishing and backing up your data.
MorphoBank is project-centered, meaning teams of researchers can create project-specific workspaces and share images and other data with each other in a password-protected environment. Because MorphoBank is web-based, team members can easily and efficiently work together no matter where they are located. Furthermore, MorphoBank's web-centric foundations make it a natural tool for online publishing of project data once a paper associated with the project goes to press in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.
The phylogenetic matrix capabilities of MorphoBank are designed to aid systematists working alone or in teams to build large phylogenetic trees using morphology (anatomy, histology, neurology, or any aspect of the phenotype). In contemporary systematic methods in which morphology is used to build trees of species (or higher taxa), one starts by constructing a matrix made of characters and taxa. Characters are features of an organism that appear in different forms. Examples include "eyes: blue, green or brown" or wings: present or absent. To convert these to a form that fits in a matrix, one might translate these as, for example, "eyes: state 1 (blue), state 2 (green), state 3 (brown)." Traditionally this has been done with desktop programs such as MacClade or Mesquite, which encode this information in files adhering to a standard format such as NEXUS (arguably the most popular format in use today).
Desktop software cannot accommodate images associated with character states or matrix cells in a robust fashion, something that is becoming essential for researchers actively studying the phenotype and for later researchers trying to understand the anatomical basis of some comparisons that might have been made decades ago. MorphoBank allows researchers to upload and download their NEXUS files, and to collaboratively edit them in the MorphoBank online workspace. It also allows researchers to upload high-quality images affiliated with each cell in a matrix, to zoom in on these images for details, to collaboratively label the images and to affiliate various kinds of metadata with an image (e.g., species, specimen number, notes, etc.).
Data in MorphoBank have been deposited by professional scientists and the students supervised in their laboratories. Once a MorphoBank project is published on-line, however, these data are made accessible to the public.