An update from here at Notes from Nature Headquarters:
1) To all you devoted CalBug transcribers, we are rapidly winding down a MASSIVE (and impressive effort) that has yielded over 500,000 transcriptions and 90,000 completed imaged specimens. We have just 700 images to go! If you can help us make a push to get those done, we are busy assembling what we are calling CalBug Missions – more focused efforts on particular groups and regions (we’ll be unveiling wood-boring beetles (!) when we finish those 700 images). More on that VERY soon!
2) In the “persistence pays off category”, if you to go to the Macrofungi collections, you’ll see that we have implemented a simple PAN/ZOOM (the same used by the Herbarium interface) for locating the label, instead of the clunky old “draw a box around the label” mechanism. We think this is a big improvement and will make you all faster/better/awesomer transcribers. Let us know what you think. PROGRESS!
Wood boring beetles – NOT BORING
A few volunteers have recently asked some questions about taxonomy in Notes From Nature. This seems to be a big question that comes up as part of the herbarium interface since this is one of the two collections where volunteers are asked to transcribe the scientific name that is present on the label.
Most of the questions and comments are about accepted versus unaccepted names. Before we get into that issue, let touch on the task that is being completed. Volunteers are asked to transcribe the scientific name (usually just genus and specific epithet) without the authorship of the name as it appears on the label. The genus and specific epithet are transcribed into the “Scientific Name” field. Here is an example:
Saccharum giganteum (Walter) Pers.
Saccharum is the genus.
giganteum is the specific epithet, sometime called species name.
(Walter) Pers. is the authorship for the name.
The authorship can be left off since this saves time and can most of the time be easily looked up automatically by querying existing databases. Another potential complication is that sometimes authorship is abbreviated and sometime not. For example, “L.” is the same as “Linnaeus.”
Databases such as ITIS list plant names as being ‘accepted’ or ‘ not accepted’. This terminology is a bit confusing for a few reasons. First, accepted names are neither static nor are they absolute; they are open to different opinions by different experts and what is accepted today may be different from what is accepted a year from now. These differences usually reflect new studies or information about the relationships among different taxa. The other issue is that one source may accept one name while another accepts a different one. Here is an example:
Saccharum giganteum is accepted by ITIS, but is not by Weakley’s Flora. Weakley considers Saccharum giganteum to be synonym of Erianthus giganteus while the opposite if true for ITIS. Both sources agree that the two names exist, but they have different opinions about which is currently accepted.
We are very excited to see folks doing some research about these names. At Notes From Nature we strongly encourage our volunteers to learn more about the work that we do and hope that everyone learns something about museums and biodiversity as part of the process. Below are a few links where volunteers can look up more information about the different taxa that they encounter, but there is no need to include that information in the transcription or Talk page. However, there are at least two exceptions to this. First would be the discovery of a misspelling or typo. Any scientific names that you discover to be misspelled should be corrected in the transcription. The other would be if you have a question, concern, noted some other oddity on the label, or just want to chat about something you have seen.
Flora of North America: http://efloras.org/flora_page.aspx?flora_id=1
The Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS): http://www.itis.gov/
Encyclopedia of Life: http://eol.org/
The PLANTS Database: http://plants.usda.gov/java/
Notes From Nature volunteer Mr Kevvy’s has generated a very useful set of custom dictionaries. They can be found here: http://www.baldurdash.org/Herbarium&MacrofungiWordListDictionary5.1.zip
These specimens come from Southeastern Louisiana University located in the southeastern United States. Wow, that’s really southeastern! Southeastern Louisiana University is a medium sized university which has an herbarium housed in its Biology department. These kinds of small to medium sized collections are fairly common around the southeastern United States. The SERNEC project has estimated there to be over 230 others! We are actively working to get them all digitized so that the data can be made available to anyone that wishes to use it.
One thing that is unique about this set of images is that it contains almost every specimen housed in this collection. That means that once this set of images is transcribed the whole collection will be digitized.
Small collections such as this one play a critical role in the documentation of biodiversity. Most small to medium sized museum collections house specimens primarily from their local area, since this is the most common place that curators and students go to collect. This means that each of these small collections makes a unique contribution to our knowledge of the local biodiversity by filling in important gaps.
The region where this collection is located is also one of the top biodiversity hotspots in the United States and is home to nearly 3,000 species of native plants.
Notes from Nature is SUPER EXCITED to introduce Raphael (Rafe) LaFrance, who is working on Notes from Nature in a part time role to help out with some needed improvement to the NFN interfaces and general usability. YAY! More about Rafe below. Also, again, thanks to our volunteers for sticking with Notes from Nature, and hoping that you’ll soon see improvements with Rafe now on board.
Name: Rafe LaFrance
Title: Informatics Specialist
Where do you work primarily? I work at the University of Florida’s Museum of Natural History (Prof. Guralnick’s lab) in the field of biodiversity informatics. We are currently using computers, field data, and museum data to track where organisms are and have been in the environment. We also track how organisms respond to changes in their environment over time. All of this is done with an eye towards the value of data for decisions in a policy and management framework.
What you do in your day job? I have a few roles. I help design and program a couple of web sites related to the Museum’s research. I also help with the preparation and analysis of research data. And, I also work as a general IT and programming support when that is needed.
What’s your role with NfN and what do you hope to gain from it accomplish? If relevant, how will your research benefit? Notes from Nature is one of the web sites that I help develop. One goal I have for NfN is to continue the tradition of listening to the needs of the citizen and research scientists and make improvements to the Notes from Nature web site based upon those needs. I have already heard several ideas that will make NfN more fun and easier to use. I hope to get them to you ASAP. Another goal is to streamline the process of getting the images and data to the citizen scientists so they can continue to make the highest quality contributions to science at their typical brisk pace. And finally, I want find new and useful ways to present the citizen scientists’ results back to the research scientists. All of which is a long winded way of saying that I want to help push the envelope of what the collaboration between citizen and research scientists can accomplish.
What’s the most exciting aspect of citizen science work from your point-of-view? Like most of us here in the Zooniverse, I have a keen interest in science and would love to help in the research. Well, here it is! Research scientists need this data; it contains vital details needed for their research. Not only are we making real contributions we’re doing it at a rate that couldn’t be done by the researchers alone. We get to — are encouraged to — comb through the hidden archives of museums. We see things that most museum goers don’t get a chance to see and we get to talk with top notch researchers about their data. I started off being curious about biology but doing citizen science has not only increased my enthusiasm for science in general it has sharpened my appreciation for the process of science. I now have a better understanding of what questions research scientists actually ask. How do they go about answering them. What data do they need to arrive at the answers. From my point of view it has made me appreciate science even more than I already did.
An article was just published which highlights the wonderful work that our volunteers have been doing.
It is called Citizen Volunteers Pitch in on Digitization Backlog and is in the journal BioScience. Once again a sincere thanks for the enormous efforts of our volunteers!