West Virginia Universitys Herbarium, the largest collection of preserved plant specimens in the state, will be part of a National Science Foundation-funded project to create an online plant collections network.

The SouthEast Regional Network of Expertise and Collections is a five-year, $498,000 project that will enable botanists and others to access pressed plant collections (herbaria) and information within a 15-state region.

Its called the Research Coordination Network, and its idea is to make biological information easily available for students, teachers and researchers.

Herbaria collections in the southeastern United States contain several million dried plant specimens from around the worlda striking, historical record of how plants survive and thrive on Earth.

The collections can help identify species and geographical areas that need to be conserved, and the potential impacts of habitat disturbance and global climate change on flora, the plant life of a particular region. The SouthEast project is also intended to increase public awareness of the social impact of plants.

Dr. Donna Ford-Werntz, associate clinical professor of biology in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences at WVU , represents West Virginia on the projects steering committee. The group includes a member from each participating state and works to coordinate the 150 herbarium facilities in the region.

She earned her doctorate from the Washington University, St. Louis in 1992. Her research interests are in the flora found in the state of West Virginia; plant collections management and systematics of Chilean purslane plants.

Her current projects involve the West Virginia Flora Atlas which is in press, computer software for plant identification, native species for highway re-vegetation, and a New River Gorge plant collections database.

The National Science Foundation is an independent U.S. government agency that supports fundamental research, and strives to fund specific research proposals that have been judged the most promising by a rigorous and objective merit-review system.

For more information, contact Ford-Werntz at dford2@mail.wvu.edu or 304-293-5201.