The BioWhere project is developing methods to determine geographic coordinates (e.g. latitude and longitude) of text location descriptions to unlock huge amounts of biological data. Accurate information about current and historical locations of biota are essential for the protection of endangered species, management of environmental pests and reduction of climate change impacts. Millions of records of species locations in biological collections, scientific reports and journal papers are in textual form (e.g.
“South-east of Wellington, mouth of Orongorongo River, near coast”), lacking the coordinates needed to map species distribution. Our methods, using artificial intelligence to generate coordinates corresponding to descriptions of locations, are being developed in collaboration with both local (e.g. Te Papa Tongarewa) and international organisations (Kew Gardens, Natural History Museum, UK).
Place names data is key to successful mapping of text descriptions, and the project is collecting data on Māori place names used by iwi/hapū (Rangitāne, Muaūpoko), including their origins, stories and
geographic extents as they change over time, providing a foundation for interpreting phrases that mention place names (e.g. “mouth of Orongorongo River”). Historical biological collections data is also being used to extract new knowledge about place names to create a self-learning gazetteer (location-aware database), which is being co-designed with iwi/hapū. Through these activities, the project is exploring methods to promote digital engagement among iwi/hapū.
The BioWhere project is funded under the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Enterprise (MBIE) Endeavour Fund, Smart Ideas Scheme. The project will run from October 2021 to September 2024. The project is led by Massey University, with partners from Cardiff University (UK), Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research (NZ) and Rauthiflor LLC (US).