Arid and semi-arid environments occupy approximately a third of the world's land surface, including half of the surface area of developing countries. Of the 850 million people who live in arid and semi-arid lands, more than 80% live in rural areas and are dependent upon agriculture and/or animal husbandry. Many also rely on local plant resources to supply a range of basic commodities, such as food, fodder, fuel and medicines. Sustainable utilisation of plant resources is a critical factor in preventing damage to the environment and improving the quality of life for millions of people.
However, information on useful plants of drylands is often patchy and scattered, and traditional knowledge on the value or management of plant resources varies from place to place. The value of a plant species for a particular purpose may, for example, only be realised in a small part of its geographic range. The SEPASAL database has been developed to bring together diverse traditional and academic knowledge on useful plants of drylands to enable evaluation and assessment of plant species, and to help transfer knowledge between areas and disciplines, and ultimately to facilitate development and improvement of lives.
SEPASAL is a major and unique database on useful "wild" and semi-domesticated plants of tropical and subtropical drylands, developed and maintained at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. It began in 1981 with funding from OXFAM. In the 1990s, funding from The Clothworkers' Foundation allowed the development of the PC version of the database. Recently, funding from The Charles Wolfson Charitable Trust has allowed the database to be developed on the Internet.
The database contains information on more than 6,200 useful dryland species, excluding major crops. It is widely used by aid agencies, development organisations, government departments, non-governmental organisations and researchers to help support sustainable resource use programmes in drylands. SEPASAL is also used to target species for germplasm collection and storage for research, biodiversity conservation and utilisation (for example, in the Millennium Seed Bank Project at Wakehurst Place).
Data fields available include:
scientific name (including synonyms);
vernacular (i.e. common) and trade names;
geographical distribution (to country or state level) and status (native or introduced, etc.);
ecological data including climatic tolerances, soil preferences, topography and associated species;
uses of plants, adopting an international standard classification - the Economic Botany Data Collection Standard;
use-related properties and chemical analyses;
cultivation details, pests and diseases;
yields, harvesting and production;
SEPASAL can help to answer a wide range of enquiries on useful plants of drylands. For example, you may need to know which plants could provide soil cover to prevent erosion in an area which has less than 300 mm rainfall, or you may want ideas on edible plants that would be suitable for saline soils.
Following a recent grant from The Charles Wolfson Charitable Trust, SEPASAL is available for searching on the Internet, making the data widely available to those who need it. There are two levels of access to Internet SEPASAL. Anyone can search to see if a plant is represented in the database. To download information and to make more complex searches, you will need to apply for a login. This is easily done by clicking on the "Apply for a login" button from the login screen and completing an online application form. To help us process your application quickly, please give as much information about your project, its outcomes and beneficiaries, and the kinds of data you are looking for. When we have processed your application you will then receive an e-mail (usually within 24 hours) with details of your password.
If you are a first time user of the Internet database, you may find it useful to click on "Display help" to guide you through the process of searching the database. When making enquiries of the database, try to narrow down your search by being as specific as possible about the following:
the type(s) of plant you are interested in (e.g. tree, shrub or herb, annual or perennial, thorny or unarmed, etc.);
the uses you require of the plants;
the country or area you are working in;
the environmental parameters that concern you (e.g. soil type, rainfall range, altitude);
other information you regard as important.
The information SEPASAL provides is free for NGOs involved in development work. Charges are made to commercial enquirers, consultancies and where projects have secured funds for data acquisition.
Another database maintained by the Centre for Economic Botany relating to drylands is the Economic Botany Bibliographic Database (EBBD) which currently contains citations to more than 160,000 references dealing with plants of economic value (including those of drylands).
Information held on each species is updated using extensive information held in manual files and other sources. The expanded data sets enable fully-referenced research reports to be provided to users, allowing more accurate assessments of the economic value and potential of individual plant species.
Families recently updated: Agavaceae (century plants), Amaranthaceae (amaranths), Anacardiaceae (e.g. mangoes, cashew nuts), Burseraceae (e.g. frankincense trees), Cactaceae (cacti), Combretaceae, Compositae (e.g. daisies), Cucurbitaceae (gourds, melons, cucumbers), Dracaenaceae (dragon trees), Ebenaceae (ebonies), Gramineae (grasses), Leguminosae (legumes), Palmae (palms), Portulacaceae, Solanaceae (e.g. peppers) and Tiliaceae among a list of 30 priority groups.
In addition, Global Editing projects underway include: Kigelia africana (Bignoniaceae), the sausage tree (Global Editor: Olwen Grace) and Dodonaea viscosa (Sapindaceae) (Global Editor: Georgina Pearman).
"Global Editing" software to enable remote data entry via the Internet
was completed in January 2001.
Global Editors with particular interest in certain species or regions have editorial control of the data on SEPASAL for "their" species.
Editors receive acknowledgement as authors of their species' datasheets.
Editors can add their own data to SEPASAL and can receive data submitted by other researchers and fieldworkers worldwide.
The SEPASAL web interface will only show data that have been checked and committed by the editor of that species.
We are especially interested in developing collaborative links with partners around the world wishing to use SEPASAL software for recording information on plant uses. If you are involved in a project recording plant uses (not necessarily in drylands) and you need a database which has the structure already in place to allow you to start recording your data, or your institute is interested in becoming part of a network for remote data entry, then please contact SEPASAL at the e-mail address below.
If you wish to send us bug reports and other feedback about Internet SEPASAL, or to contact us about anything else (but not account applications), please contact us at the address below.
Centre for Economic Botany
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Surrey, TW9 3AE
Tel: +44 (0)20 8332 5772
Fax: +44 (0)20 8332 3717