A Virtual Museum on the State's Fish Biodiversity

About and Documentation

The Fishes of Texas Project is a work in progress and data and website content are subject to revision. All content provided by the project is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License, but see restrictions and please cite Fishes of Texas Project and the original data donor institutions whenever content from this project is used. Note that in addition to our own original content, our site includes links to external resources managed by others. These should open in new windows or tabs while links to our own content should, by default, open within the user's current tab or window.

We aspire to compile and synthesize knowledge of the spatial and temporal distribution of Texas' freshwater fish fauna. Based in the University of Texas' Ichthyology Collection (a division of the College of Natural Sciences' Department of Integrative Biology), the project focused originally on museum-vouchered specimens and associated data housed in our own collection, but grew quickly to incorporate additional specimen-based records from other institutions. We chose to use museum specimen records as our primary data source since, unlike other data sources, the accuracy of at least species identifications can always be verified and because museum specimens are essentially permanent and have been regularly collected statewide over a long period of time, they provide a much longer and more comprehensive history of the fauna than do any other source.

Our database now includes records from over 40 institutions based on specimens collected as far back as the mid 1800's. Our efforts have focused on standardizing, merging and subjecting the data to a rigorous error detection and correction process and making it available to researchers, natural research managers and the public. The resulting fish occurrence records now include the state's approximately 280 species found in freshwaters and many more from its bays. This database is available online and allows for powerful data queries, on-the-fly mapping of results, and downloading of records to facilitate its utilization in diverse and complex research and management applications, as well as education.

While preserving and always displaying the donor institutions' verbatim data as we received it, we synonymized the thousands of scientific names received from contributing institutions to current taxonomic standards and added standardized common names. This, together with the project's extensive normalization and editing of all fields (dates, localities, place names, collector's names, etc.), georeferencing (applying latitude/longitude) with estimates of error, and addition of many categorical geographic fields (e.g. counties, drainage basins, Hydrologic Unit Codes, Natural Areas, etc.), as well as thorough documentation of the complete data processing methodology, result in a very high quality data resource.

Precise manual georeferencing of most of the records with estimates of placement error facilitated discovery of probable identification errors via mapping and flagging of geographic outliers. Outliers were pulled from donor institutions and examined to verify identification. In some collections up to 70% of flagged records proved to be mis-identified, and many that proved correct extended known ranges. High error rates indicate that un-vouchered identifications should always be interpreted cautiously.

The online database includes occurrence records, as well as (for many records) collectors' original field notes, many specimen photographs, images of ancillary documentation (e.g. original jar labels), a large collection of images of both preserved and live specimens, beautiful full color illustrations of many species, and identification keys. Also available are species accounts for most species that summarize current knowledge of biology and ecology as gleaned from the literature. Online documentation for all aspects of the project is available, and the web site allows users to upload comments and images linked to any record or locality. We encourage anyone interested in the Texas freshwater fishes to help us improve this resource by commenting and uploading their own materials to the website.

The database continues to improve and grow as we request and receive new data, process it, and incorporate it into the database. We are exploring new ways of serving and improving species accounts and associated bibliographic data, and bringing the text of those independently written accounts into compliance with what our database tells us, which often differs from what is in the literature. We are also working on new, illustrated keys for identification of all species, and hope to start linking in the extensive unvouchered (not backed by preserved specimens) data sets on the state's fauna as maintained by a diversity of state and federal government agencies and other sources. Some of our experimentation can be viewed as it develops in our "Sandbox".

Contact us with any questions or comments about our site's content, or use comment forms found on most pages.

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