New Agroforestry Species Switchboard means easier, faster access to quality information

Maize growing under nitrogen fixing Faidherbia albida

Faidherbia albida, a nitrogen-fixing acacia, is among the over 22,000 species searchable on the new Agroforestry Species Switchboard

The word ‘Acacia’ returns about 25 million results from an online search. The same genus name, entered in the newly launched Agroforestry Species Switchboard, produces a list of the 629 species names containing ‘Acacia’,  easily navigable with links to further information from over a dozen globally renowned databases. Acacia are among the 22,212 useful tree, shrub and related plant species listed searchable from this new information gateway on the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) website.

“The Switchboard’s main strength is that it shortens the time and energy spent on searches, and generates quality information drawn from trusted sources,” says Roeland Kindt, the senior ecologist at ICRAF who led the development of the tool. “Its creation was driven by a need expressed by users, for a “one-stop-shop” for good quality and detailed information on species of interest,” says Kindt.

The work was funded by the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, and during the development of the tool, most of ICRAF research divisions, known as Science Domains, were involved.

The 13 websites the Switchboard links to include The Plant Resources for Tropical Africa, The Useful Tree Species for Africa, Tree Seed Suppliers Directory, The UNEP-WCMC Species Database,  and The VECEA interactive vegetation map. In addition to directly harnessing information from these 13, the switchboard also provides hyperlinks to The Plant ListTropicosRoyal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and The Global Biodiversity Information Facility.

“Before the Switchboard, you had to search for a particular species one database at a time. But now, multiple databases that list information on a particular species can be accessed in one go,” says Kindt.

“Because listings of species in databases only partially overlap, it is common to find little or no information on a particular species in one database, but plenty of it in a second or third database. So it makes sense to query multiple trusted sources of data on one web interface,” he states.

By harvesting information in this way, the user can find out detailed descriptions on a particular species, its uses, availability of its seed and seedlings, how suitable it is for growing in various ecological zones, as well as its photographs or line drawings.

Users can search for information in two ways:

The switchboard is also serving a taxonomic function; species are listed according to their current as well as any previous names (so-called synonyms), so anomalies in naming are easy to spot. “With the switchboard, the user can check on the correct spelling of particular species, and discover any synonyms the species currently goes by in different databases,” says Kindt.


On the new Agroforestry Species Switchboard a search for mango, Mangifera indica, brings up links to many useful databases.

ICRAF has a long history of collaboratively producing listings of agroforestry-related species: first as books (e.g. the Useful Trees and Shrubs series) in the 1980s and 90s, to the present, where the listings are entirely online. Among these online databases are the popular Agroforestree database; the Tree Seed Suppliers Database; the African Wood Density database; and the Useful Tree Species for Africa. This last one enables you to select useful tree species for planting anywhere in Africa using Google Earth.

ICRAF database programmer Caleb Orwa, who worked on the Switchboard’s main web interface, notes that the new site will often be used alongside these databases. “Someone who is interested in selecting a suitable tree species can still go straight to the Agroforestree database,” he says. In this database, it is possible to search by terms related to tree ‘products’ and ‘services’, for instance ‘Timber’ or ‘Soil Fertility’. Once users zero in on genus or species names, they may enter these scientific names in the Switchboard and find a host of additional information.

The Switchboard is set to grow and develop, and Kindt says one priority would be to make it searchable by common names, in addition to scientific names. The team is also looking into generating links to other important databases, such as the USDA’s Germplasm Resources Information Network.

Another continuous activity is monitoring the 13 databases to which the Switchboard relates, for new species listings or changes in names and synonyms of species.

The team is inviting users’ suggestions on other databases that may be linked to the switchboard, and welcome comments that would make the tool even more responsive to users’ needs.

Feel free to explore the Agroforestry Species Switchboard and discover a wealth of knowledge on species of interest, easier, faster and without having to work through an information overload.


Agroforestry Species Switchboard 1.0 Developed by: Kindt R, Ordonez J, Smith E, Orwa C, Harja D, Kehlenbeck K, Luedeling E, Munjuga M, Mwanzia L, Sinclair F and Jamnadass R. 2013. ICRAF Species Switchboard. Version 1.0. World Agroforestry Centre, Nairobi.

Related links

Using vegetation maps to infer the suitability domain of useful tree species'

Daisy Ouya

Daisy Ouya is a science writer and communications specialist with the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF). Over the past 15 years she has been packaging and disseminating scientific knowledge in the fields of entomology, agriculture, health, HIV/AIDS research, and marine science. Daisy is a Board-certified Editor in the Life Sciences ( and has a Masters’ degree in chemistry from the University of Connecticut, USA. Her BSc is from the University of Nairobi in her native Kenya. She has worked as a journal editor, science writer, publisher, and communications strategist with various organizations. She joined ICRAF in July 2012. Twitter: @daisyouya

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