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BRAHMS FAQ

BRAHMS is an acronym for Botanical Research And Herbarium Management System. The name BRAHMS has been in use since the project started about 1990.

Although we have kept the name BRAHMS, we do not refer any more to Botanical Research And Herbarium Management System as the new system is no longer restricted to botanists and herbaria!

The latest BRAHMS system manages data for all natural history collections, botanical and zoological with special modules for preserved collections (museums, herbaria), botanic gardens, seed banks and field surveys.

BRAHMS has been developed to store all categories of natural history collection. Some database project examples:

  • manage a grasshopper or beetle collection;
  • create a catalogue of fungi or cultivated plants;
  • produce an annotated checklist for a mountain in Cameroon;
  • develop a comprehensive botanic garden or seed bank management system;
  • or all of these together within a larger natural history museum or herbarium;
  • create an online portal to search and display your data, images and maps.

Perhaps the key issue here is that BRAHMS is no longer restricted to botanical data. As an example, the taxa module facilitates the storage of data from Kingdom in the higher level classification table down to infra-specific taxa levels. If any taxa ranks are missing by default, for example a level specific to Orthoptera, fossils or Rhododendron, these can be added.

Although BRAHMS v8 uses completely new technology from the user interface to data store itself, v7 users will quickly recognise many of the tools and functions in v8 as well as the broad layout of the menus, minimising the task of upgrading. For a summary of the key changes, please refer to the PDF Changes between v7 and v8.

BRAHMS is a Windows desktop application. Thus, BRAHMS operates under Windows or on Macs with Parallels, Virtual Box, Boot Camp or equivalent. Although it is a desktop application, it’s also possible to publish BRAHMS databases or selected data from a database directly to BRAHMS Online (BOL). BOL is separately installed server based software. BRAHMS includes a module known as WebConnect which allows you to create websites and publish your data online.

There is no meaningful limit to the number of records you can store in a BRAHMS database. The actual limit would only be restricted by your PC or server storage capacity. Images are referenced in BRAHMS by their path-file names or URL links. Thus again, the only limit for storing images is your physical storage space.

The largest BRAHMS database to date has about 6 million specimen and image records. The same database has entries for over 600,000 taxa.

Taxonomic data lies at the heart of the BRAHMS system - all projects store data on taxonomic names at some level. BRAHMS provides comprehensive features for managing these data – enabling you to use the system to publish monographs or revisional work with complete nomenclatural details and descriptions for each name.

However, for many projects, the focus lies elsewhere, for example managing a museum collection or botanic garden. In these cases, the management of the names themselves will not be the primary focus. It may be sufficient to store the Latin name and perhaps include the author and common name(s).

The amount of information added per name depends entirely on the project. For example a horticultural project, in addition to storing cultivar, trade and common names, may need details on exposure and water requirements, hardiness, plant size and uses. A botanist or zoologist preparing a monograph would store name status, full synonymy, protologue details, descriptive texts, references and more…

The taxonomic data module lies at the centre of BRAHMS. However, its use depends entirely on the category of the project.

BRAHMS is constructed of a series of data modules. From a technical and software development perspective, each module is independent of the others. However, from a user perspective, these modules are fully integrated and share resources.

At the heart of the system lies the comprehensive taxonomy module. This has been developed for all natural history taxa. Whether a zoologist, botanist or horticulturalist, the module will cover your requirements. All of the other database modules are connected to the taxonomy core. Beyond this, there is extensive data integration between the modules. As one example, you can quickly summarise the relevant museum specimens, living collections, seed bank holdings, images and literature references when browsing through your taxa list.

For collection managers in museums, botanic gardens, herbaria and seed banks and for those undertaking taxonomic and biogeographic studies, BRAHMS helps integrate your data for collection management and research, increasing outputs and productivity.

You can select data within RDE files and BRAHMS databases in almost any imaginable way. Querying is super-flexible and easy to learn.

Using the yellow ‘data grid filter row’, located at the top of every table, you can query on any combination of fields. Adding text or numbers to this row auto-applies the query. You can use the filter row to query on exact matches or 'contains'. And you can also use functions and wild card searches. The filter row is so versatile that, by itself, can usually fulfil all your query requirements.

For a good example of using the filter row in a large database (over 5 million collection records), check out the video performance in a large database.

The data grid filter row with 4 simultaneous filters applied.

The main Data Tools toolbar provides further query options including for Advanced Query.

Using the advanced query tool, you can create and save complex or frequently used queries.

The main reporting power lies in the BRAHMS integrated reporter. This enables you to design and save report templates. These templates can then be used to produce almost any imaginable report output starting from basic lists and labels to more complex designs with indexes and calculated summaries. For more about reports, please refer to the report design help page.

The reporter uses a visual design process. Once conquered, you can create many different categories of report template.

Data from all BRAHMS tables can also be selected and exported to Excel or CSV files. You just tag the records to export and then open the data in Excel.

With no additional GIS installation, you can produce maps directly using the internal ArcGIS mapper. The internal mapper is a powerful way to display and analyse your data, locate map errors and copy maps to add to documents. Clicking on a map point locates that record in your data grid. You can also drag areas to search the ArcGIS maps – and update your data grid records.

Here’s a video from the main botanic garden of Utah, USA showing how they can map and check the species in an area known as floral walk: Garden Mapping Video. If you have your own base maps on a map server, these can be added to the internal mapper base map list.

BRAHMS has an internal ArcGIS mapper which is dynamically connected to the data grid. This mapper is a component of BRAHMS and requires no further installation.

To produce detailed maps, perhaps for publishing or analysis, using the GIS you are familiar with, BRAHMS connects directly to ArcMAP, QGIS, Google Earth, DIVA GIS and GeoCAT. The mapping toolbar options are enabled whenever the active table has a map data, typically available as Latitude and Longitude. All of the commonly used data fields are passed to the GIS – together with the map points themselves, enabling you to set map themes.

You can either create new GIS projects from BRAHMS or open existing map projects. In the latter case, the exported BRAHMS map points file would be included in your saved map project and would thus plot automatically together with the other map layers in your project.

For further information, refer to the mapping section in the BRAHMS manual.

While data can be entered directly into BRAHMS, RDE is recommended for entering larger numbers of records and also as a first step when importing or transferring data from other software packages such as Excel. RDE files are entirely separate mini-databases linked to your main BRAHMS database.

As well as storing data. RDE files can store images and have the same functionality as your main database files to track and undo changes.

Rapid Data Entry is a very efficient way to enter batches of data.

RDE data are stored in portable SQLite databases. Although RDE files appear and are used as one single table, behind the scenes, they in fact comprise several related tables which allow you to link images to the RDE records and also keep track of all edits. RDE file have a ‘.rde’ file extension. NB for BRAHMS v7 users, RDE files are now contained in one single file.

You can store data in one or more RDE files and use these data to create summaries, maps, reports, manage images, and in general, use many of the BRAHMS tools and functions. Some users continue to work in RDE as it does all they need. However, RDE files are more like Excel spreadsheets with BRAHMS features and a series of separate RDE files does not constitute a ‘database’. Data held in separate RDE files cannot be combined for reporting or mapping - unless the RDE files are merged into a single large file – a process which is possible but inefficient for long term data management. Most projects gather or add data to RDE files – and then transfer these files into their database.

RDE files are completely portable. They can be copied to any PC and/or exchanged with other users. You can store them on memory sticks and open the file(s) from there from any BRAHMS database.

A collection event refers to an activity that gathers data about a species in a place. Usually, there is a date and a collector name. The amount of detail available for the geographic place varies from very rough (a country name) to a precise GPS level location with accurate elevation. Further information about the collection event is usually given, for example, location notes, a description of the habitat and a description of the item being collected. The collection event record has many optional fields, the use of which depends entirely on the project.

The collection events table showing a selection of fields including the calculated field # Specimens. A filter has been set to show collection events with 5 or more linked specimens.

Collection events should not be confused with physical specimens. An event may be an ‘observation’ with no physical specimens collected. There may be images – but no actual specimens. On the other hand, collections events often lead to one of more specimens, examples being bird, insect, seed, fungi or plant specimens. In some cases, multiple specimens may be taken. With plants, there may be material for multiple duplicated specimens, a DNA reference sample, carpological, wood and spirit material – all of these linked to the same event.

Specimens are always linked to a collection event. They always have an institution code (where are they?) and may have additional data added such as a barcode, accession number and type status. Specimens may have multiple determinations made over time by different specialists.

BRAHMS databases and the tables they contain are provided with a defined structure. However, as well as choosing the data columns you see in your data grids – and saving these as favourite views, you can add new data fields specific to your project, selecting the field name, type and size. These custom fields become a permanent part of your database unless you subsequently opt to delete them. This also applies to RDE files. In BRAHMS v7, these were known as ‘link fields’ and they were only available in selection of tables. In v8, ‘custom fields’ can be added to all tables, they are more fully integrated within the system, and are treated the same way as standard fields.

Once added, custom fields become a permanent part of your database.

Both minor and major BRAHMS software updates are released regularly each year. These will include new features, enhancments to existing features and bug fixes.

If you are running a licensed BRAHMS system, you will be notified of any updates and you can choose whether to proceed to replace/update your software. If you opt to do this, you simply replace your existing BRAHMS software folder with the new one. All your data connections, users, users settngs, configuration settings and, of course, the databases themselves, are maintained. When you log into a connected data store. the system will prompt you if any changes to your current data structures are required. Once you agree to the updates, these are carried out automatically.

All datastore/database updates are automated when you upgrade your software.

The living collections module in BRAHMS is all about botanic garden management. In the broad sense, this covers botanic gardens, arboreta, estates and other horticultural projects.

The module uses all the standard BRAHMS features to edit, query, report, map, export and publish online – but it has a comprehensive module with additional features for managing garden accessions and plants.

As living collections data are fully integrated within BRAHMS, it becomes possible to develop a comprehensive system for both curation and research enabling you to review these collections alongside the other associated collections that the BRAHMS system is managing.

The appropriate menu options are displayed once the Living Collections category is selected on the main Collections menu.

For more details, refer to garden management page or the section BRAHMS for Botanic Gardens in the BRAHMS manual.