Arid Lands Newsletter--link to home page No. 37, Spring/Summer 1995
Conserving Biodiversity

Editor's Note: Biodiversity and the World Wide Web

by John M. Bancroft


We here at the Arid Lands Newsletter--together with many of you, I imagine--in the past few months have begun to explore the largely uncharted and rapidly evolving landscape of the World Wide Web on the Internet.

We even have begun to colonize that cyber version of terra incognita. This issue of ALN, for example, is being published simultaneously in its traditional print form and online via the Web. The full but unillustrated text of the previous two issues, The Deserts In Literature and Desert Architecture III: Building A Sustainable Future, have been available online since last October. We also have undertaken the building of a Web site for The International Arid Lands Consortium (IALC), an independent, nonprofit research organization supporting ecological sustainability in arid and semiarid lands worldwide. The site is still under construction, but you're welcome to look in by firing up your favorite Web browser and entering the following URL:

That's the address of The IALC Home Page, and from it a series of mouse clicks or key strokes will take you to other pages within the site or lead you to other Web sites on other computers just about anywhere on the planet. The experienced Web navigator is never surprised to find herself in Arizona at 12:01:15 on a Friday afternoon and in The Netherlands at 12:01:18.

Biodiversity and the World Wide Web

The world of the Web is one of information, and although it and the rest of the Internet have come to be popularly known collectively as The Information Superhighway, this madly proliferating collection of interactive sites might more properly be thought of as a wild and scenic river, complete with exhilarating but dangerous rapids to shoot and placid backwaters where nothing much ever happens. On the Web, promising leads sometimes go nowhere and leave you stranded there, a trip to the corner for a pack of statistics can turn into an unexpected tour of back alleys in which outlaw cyberpunks lurk, and useless diversions and digressions pop up like billboards on old Route 66 to obstruct the view.

It can all be very frustrating, but perseverance will pay off.

In preparation for a presentation to an undergraduate colloquium dealing with online sources of information on biodiversity here earlier this spring, I decided to follow one of who knows how many possible Web threads to one of its equally multifarious possible ends. My goal was to demonstrate to the students that setting out on an electronic expedition armed with a clear idea of where one hoped to wind up, even though one had little idea about how to get there, did not necessarily equate with setting out on a wild goose chase. That's what I hoped, and luck was with me.

I chose the Home Page of the Biodiversity and Ecosystems Network (BENE) as my point of departure and decided simply to see where the hot links I found there took me. It turned out to be a sound decision, and I spent a profitable hour exploring and collecting shiny bits and pieces of information; I could have gone further and spent longer doing it, but I declared the last site I visited in this thread--a site devoted to yet more biodiversity resources--the logical terminus of my jaunt. Along the way I compiled a hotlist (read on) of the useful (to me) sites I visited, so that I could find my way back to them later. And that's the key to navigating the World Wide Web: leave a trail of URLs behind you as you go if you don't want to wind up hopelessly lost.

Fortunately, Web browsers make leaving a trail relatively painless. Most will automatically track you during a single session online, and if you know where to look among the pull-down menus you can, with some concentration, retrace your leaps from site to site. A better way is to construct and save a hotlist or list of bookmarks (the terminology varies with the browser) by adding to it the URL of every site you think you might one day want to go back to.

The hotlist I compiled on my experimental journey through Webspace is reproduced below. If you are reading this online, every numbered line in the list is a hot link, so feel free to leap at will. If you are reading this in print, the point of the exercise (assuming, perhaps too optimistically, that the list possesses some degree of intuitive logic) is to give you a glimpse of the twists and doublings just one of many possible exploratory routes might take. I hope you'll consider it an opportunity to look before you leap.

A Biodiversity Hotlist

[Links last checked 10/03; na=Link no longer available; other links still functional; up=Link has changed and has been updated]

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