A decade of Notes from Nature: 10 years of using community science to mobilize biodiversity data

Natural history museums across the world share a common goal – to conserve and make available knowledge about natural and cultural heritage. The Notes from Nature project gives anyone with internet access the opportunity to make a scientifically important contribution towards that goal. Every transcription that is completed at Notes from Nature brings us closer to filling gaps in our knowledge of global biodiversity and natural heritage.

The challenge of making natural history data available for the broadest use is enormous. Today, there are ~10 billion specimens housed in natural history museums around the world. These biological collections document where species and populations exist now and where they existed decades and centuries before, so they hold irreplaceable information necessary for uncovering the patterns of changes in species distributions and ecosystem composition over time. Scientists and other stakeholders use such data and information in order to address key environmental issues we are facing right now, such as how biodiversity loss can impact human well-being, prosperity and health.

Today we celebrate 10 years of Notes from Nature and its role in making natural history data broadly available. Notes from Nature connects people with little previous experience in natural history to the wonders of the natural world. We mark this 10 year milestone by celebrating first and foremost the volunteers who have contributed over 4.7 million transcriptions to our site. We literally would not still be here if it were not for those that have contributed over the past 10 years. We also want to acknowledge our funder, the National Science Foundation, who has supported Notes from Nature through multiple grants. The Zooniverse has provided not only development and maintenance of the platform that Notes from Nature runs on, but also guidance and expertise in what they like to call “people powered research.” Lastly, we want to acknowledge our science partners who provide engaging content, critical science questions and dissemination of data contributed by Notes from Nature volunteers to the general public.

  • The Notes from Nature platform has amassed 4.7 million transcriptions since launching 10 years ago
  • Over 585 distinct expeditions have been completed
  • Approximately 18,000 individuals that have contributed to the project
  • Hosted dozens online and in person events such as transcription blitzes as well as formal and informal educational events for middle school level and above.

The next steps for Notes from Nature involve novel tools that will help make more efficient use of human efforts. Notes from Nature is an activity working on machine learning approaches that work in conjunction with community science approaches. We anticipate that machine learning will eliminate the need for human transcription in some cases, but certainly not all. Our goal is not to replace human effort, but to make better use of it. The challenge of making natural history data available for the broadest use is enormous and we need to use human effort where it is most needed such as interpreting handwritten text or applying local knowledge to people and locations to make accurate interpretations of historical specimens and information. In the coming year we are actively working to make Notes from Nature a truly next generation platform and at the same time improve volunteer experiences.


WeDigBio 2023 – Appreciation

We closed out the last day of WeDigBio April 2023 with over 2,800 classifications. That puts Notes from Nature at over 11,300 for the event. Thanks to all that made it possible!

The beetles were very popular this year closing out the week with over 4,800 classifications! If you missed the California collections tour, you can find it on YouTube. The recording of the symposium on the Major Motivations Across Scale for Digitizing Biodiversity can be found on Vimeo

WeDigBio is now twice a year so please mark your calendar for October 12–15, 2023.

There are still lots of expeditions from a wide variety of organisms available on our site. As always feel free to contribute anytime and help by spreading the word.

— The Notes from Nature Team

WeDigBio 2023, Day 3

Thanks to everyone that contributed to Notes from Nature during Day 3 of WeDigBio 2023! We received over 2,900 classifications.

It was a big day for bees and Arkansas plants. We even completed the first Bees of the Canadian National Collection expedition. Thanks for all your efforts!

We hope everyone is enjoying the last half day or so of WeDigBio 2023. As always we’d love to hear from you if you have feedback about the event or anything else really. Please feel free to leave us some thoughts on the main Notes from Nature Talk board or you can always send a direct message to the Project Coordinator Michael @md68135 too.

— The Notes from Nature

WeDigBio 2023 – Day 2

Ladybird beetle specimen from the Ladybird, Ladybird, Fly Away Home expedition.

There was lots of great WeDigBio activity yesterday on Notes from Nature. We received over 3,200 classifications. Our beetle expeditions were very popular and received over 1,200 classifications alone. There was also a well attended symposium on Major Motivations Across Scale for Digitizing Biodiversity where we heard from three active leaders on biodiversity data issues.

We hope everyone is enjoying Day 3. Please help us spread the word and encourage others to participate.

— The Notes from Nature Team

WeDigBio 2023 – Day 1

We got some wonderful reports about WeDigBio day 1. In total Notes from Nature received over 2,300 classifications. Some of our colleagues from California held a well attended collectors tour. In case you missed it, you can re-watch it on YouTube.

Remember that we have a symposium today on the Major Motivations Across Scale for Digitizing Biodiversity. There is still time to join.

Thanks to all who’ve made WeDigBio possible,

— The Notes from Nature Team

WeDigBio 2023 Badge

We are keeping the tradition of the yearly WeDigBio badge going! We just rolled out another new badge just in time for WeDigBio 2023.

You can earn the badge by doing 10 classifications anytime during the WeDigBio event (April 13th – April 16th, 2023). Remember that you can see your earned badges as well as the ones you are still working towards on your Field Book. Note that Field Books are specific to a project, so you’ll need to do 10 in the same project to earn the badge. You can find out more about the Field Book and how it works in a previous blog post.

We’re excited about this years event and hope you are too.

— The Notes from Nature Team

WeDigBio next week (April 13 -16)

We’re ramping up for WeDigBio starting next Thursday (April 13). We’ve got lots of great content related to bees, plants, fleas, moths and even more beetles coming very soon.

Be sure to check out the special WeDigBio Symposium April 14 · 3 – 4pm EDT (UTC -4)

Stop by Notes from Nature anytime to check out how you can help and as always please spread the word and encourage others to participate. All you need to do is visit Notes from Nature, select a project and then an expedition to work on. Every classification helps us unlock important biodiversity data that will become publicly available.

— The Notes from Nature Team

Symposium on Major Motivations Across Scale for Digitizing Biodiversity (April 14th)

Three thought leaders reflect on major motivations to create digital info about biodiversity at international, national, and personal scales

When: Friday, April 14 · 3 – 4pm EDT (UTC -4)

Where: Online

Join us during this 1-hour symposium focused on the major motivations driving creation of digital data about the three billion insects on pins, fish in jars, fossils in drawers, plants on sheets, and other specimen types curated by the world’s museums, universities, government labs, botanical gardens, zoos, and elsewhere.

Registration: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/symposium-on-major-motivations-across-scale-for-digitizing-biodiversity-tickets-598571923737

WeDigBio: Save the date April 13 – 16

The next WeDigBio is a month away! The event will take place on 13-16 April 2023. People from all over the world join together to digitize specimen data and to celebrate biodiversity collections. We hope you join us!

This is a fun and festive weekend at NfN. We’ll have “classifying blitz” here online at Notes from Nature, where we’ll classify as many Subjects as we can during the event. There will be new expeditions, and some of our data providers will host events such as online talks, tours, and discussions (and possibly some in-person events), so you’ll have opportunities to meet them and learn about their work.

Please invite your family, friends, and colleagues to participate too: as you already do, they can support support biodiversity research by digitizing natural history collections data. You’ll be able to follow along by looking for the #WeDigBio hashtag on Twitter and Facebook.

If you are a researcher interested in using Notes from Nature in your research please reach out (notesfromnature.pm@gmail.com), we’d love to work with you for this event of one in the future.

— The Notes from Nature Team

Fraxinus Fruit Finder Preliminary Results

Back in October we launched an expedition on the Zooniverse mobile app called Fraxinus Fruit Finder. Fraxinus is the genus of ash trees in the Olive family (Oleaceae). The basic idea was to score the specimen as having fruit or not. It seems that most people found it straightforward to tell if fruits were present and enjoyed helping out. The expedition completed in just 4 days and 48 different volunteers contributed!

A Fraxinus specimen with fruit present. The straw-colored fruits are clustered on the lower part of the stem in the picture.

This effort is part of a much larger project related to ash trees and a beetle that feeds on it called emerald ash borer. The beetle is native to north-eastern Asia, but is now spreading around North America. It is currently mostly found in the eastern part of North America, but is likely to spread much further. There is tremendous concern about environmental and economic impacts that this beetle could have on native and introduced ash trees. Ash trees are abundant in many ecosystems and are also commonly planted in parks, along streets and are used in landscaping. A group of researchers from the Huntington Botanical Gardens in California is collecting ash seeds and leaf tissue from all over the United States with the hope of finding strains that are be resistant to emerald ash borer infestations.

One of the species of interest is called Fraxinus anomala, single-leaf ash. This species is unusual for ashes in that it is a shrub (most are big trees) and it has simple leaves (most have compound leaves). The single-leaf ash grows in very arid areas and tends to flower and fruit very irregularly which can make collecting seeds more challenging.

Line drawing showing the simple leaves of Fraxinus anomala compared with the compound leaves of other species. Image from Jepson eFlora.

That brings us to Notes from Nature! We had the idea to score as many specimens of single-leaf ash as we could to get a better sense of when to go seed collecting for the single-leaf ash.

The first question we asked was whether they could be scored using this Notes from Nature method and this preliminary expeditions indicates that is was a resounding success. There wasn’t a single discrepancy in the data as all volunteers agreed whether a specimen was in fruit or not.

There were 794 records in this expedition and we set the retirement to 5 meaning we collected a total of 4,109 entries. 370 (46%) specimens were found to be in fruit at the time of collection. We also wanted to know if there was a pattern to the fruiting date. The mean date of fruiting for our specimens was June 12th . The earliest date was March 24th and the latest date was Dec. 30th, which confirmed that it can fruit throughout the year. However, the majority of the fruiting specimens are from May and June. The plot below also shows that fruiting is very variable and can happen throughout the year.

Barplot showing the distribution of flowering dates among specimens used in the Fraxinus Fruit Finder expedition.

These results are very helpful and will greatly assist in seed collection this coming season. The next steps are to look at possible bias in the data as well as other factors that could affect fruiting time. For example, in the next phase we could look at elevation and latitude which could influence fruiting time.

Thanks again to all that contributed,

— Michael from the Notes from Nature Team

%d bloggers like this: