About - History

Morphbank :: Biological Imaging History

The morphbank concept was originally outlined as part of a collaborative effort to elucidate higher-level relationships in the parasitic-wasp superfamily Cynipoidea. This effort was planned in 1997-1998 by (in alphabetical order) Jose Luis Nieves-Aldrey (Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, Madrid), Juli Pujade-Villar (Universitat de Barcelona), and Fredrik Ronquist (Uppsala University), together with their PhD students (in alphabetical order) Felix Fontal-Cazalla (Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, Madrid), Johan Liljeblad (Swedish Museum of Natural History, Stockholm), and Palmira Ros-Farre (Universitat de Barcelona). Fredrik Ronquist first presented the morphbank project at an open lecture with international participation at Uppsala University in February of 1998 and at an international Hymenoptera Phylogeny Workshop in March of 1998. The first major set of images was added to the database in October to December of 1998 by Felix Fontal-Cazalla and Matt Buffington (then a student of Bob Wharton and Jim Woolley at Texas A & M University, College Station, TX, USA). These early images were mostly of eucoilines (Cynipoidea: Figitidae). Johan Liljeblad later added an even larger set of images, mostly of gall wasps (Cynipidae), the other major family of Cynipoidea. Smaller, but nevertheless critical contributions to the database, involved all the original participants in the project. Matt Buffington was particularly important in developing the morphbank concept and presented the image database at several meetings in the US and elsewhere in 2000 to 2002.

Originally, images were arranged in folders according to the current classification of the Cynipoidea and were available for viewing and downloading through anonymous FTP and from 2000 through a web portal. In 2002-2003, Johan Hultgren (now at 6th Gear) worked together with Johan Liljeblad on a more sophisticated web interface for the image database. The new interface was presented by Fredrik Ronquist at the International Congress of Systematics and Evolutionary Biology in Patras in September of 2002, as part of the MorphoBank [sic!] session initiated by the American MorphoBank team, an independent image data-basing project. The interface was made available online in February of 2003.

The first paper based on morphbank images was published in Cladistics in 2002 (18:154-199) and was co-authored by the original morphbank group plus Matt Buffington and Göran Nordlander at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala. The paper presented the first analysis of higher eucoiline relationships and was based on almost 150 morphological characters coded from some 1,100 morphbank images. The availability of morphbank for general uploading of images from the user community was announced in the summer of 2003 in Systematic Biology. Several important contributions of images to the database since then are highlighted in the news section of the morphbank home page.

In the spring of 2004, the major hub of morphbank development moved from Uppsala University in Sweden to the School of Computational Science (SCS) at Florida State University in Tallahassee, FL, USA. A development team involving computer scientists, mathematicians, biologists and information specialists was formed. The team was instrumental in expanding the scope of the database to cover many more groups of organisms and new use cases, such as the documentation of natural history collections, image vouchering of DNA sequenced specimens, and the sharing of images used for morphometric analysis. The site of the master server was moved in the summer of 2004 to SCS.

The creation of morphbank would not have been possible without support from the Swedish Research Council (to Fredrik Ronquist), from the National Science Foundation PEET program (to Bob Wharton and Jim Woolley), and from the Swedish Institute (to Felix Fontal-Cazalla). From the fall of 2003, morphbank has been supported by the School of Computational Science and Information Technology, later the School of Computational Science, at FSU (to Fredrik Ronquist) and the National Science Foundation (PEET grant to Bob Wharton and John Heraty; AToL grant to Michael Sharkey and colleagues; Biological Databases and Informatics Program grant to Fredrik Ronquist and colleagues).