Notes from Nature and the Florida Museum Launch the ‘Take a Note for Earth Day’ campaign

It’s Earth Day again! To celebrate, we are launching “Take a Note for Earth Day” in collaboration with the Florida Museum of Natural History.

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From April 20 – 22, we are encouraging people to do one transcription and post about it on social media using the hashtag #TakeANote. In the time it takes to order a cup of coffee, you can help scientists document life on our planet!

We will be releasing a few expeditions leading up to the weekend​, and on Sunday, there will be a special expedition available to people who drop by the Florida Museum between 1 and 5 p.m. Participants will have an opportunity to talk to botanists, see museum specimens and get a Notes from Nature sticker for helping out.

So, order a cup of coffee and do one transcription, and don’t forget to post about it on social media!  #TakeANote

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Thank You! Meet Our (MGCL) Sack-bearer Moths, aka Poop-house Caterpillars!

Thank you for your work on the Mixed Bag of Specimens from the McGuire Center! It was amazing to see this expedition finish in a short amount of time. We have another grab bag of specimens for you to transcribe. But before transcribing read about some of the moths you will be transcribing, thanks to graduate student Ryan St. Laurent.

PoopMoth

Throughout the Americas, but especially in the rainforests and savannahs of Latin America, live a peculiar family of moths called Mimallonidae. These moths are colloquially known as “Sack-bearers,” a name derived from their strange caterpillars which make open-ended shelters that are unlike any other constructed by butterflies and moths. These shelters are made of frass (poop), silk, and plant material; the caterpillars drag around their funny houses much like a hermit crab carries its shell. Sack-bearer caterpillars have evolved specialized bodies adapted to living inside these shelters, their heads and butts are tough and shield-like, so they can stuff either end of their bodies in either opening of their house, preventing unwanted intruders from entering. While these shelters usually appear mostly to be made of leaves and silk, the frass is interwoven into the shelter, providing structure and rigidity. The frass pellets are actually used much like little bricks. Maybe these moths are more accurately called Poop-house Caterpillars, rather than Sack-bearers? Relative to many other moth families, the Poop-house caterpillar family is not particularly diverse, with only about 300 species total. Despite the low number of species, and restricted distribution, Mimallonidae are an interesting piece of the overall evolutionary puzzle of Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths). From recent studies that examined the DNA of many families of Lepidoptera, it has become increasingly clear that Mimallonidae share a common ancestor with a globally distributed group of moths that also happens to be the most diverse in terms of number of species. Does this mean that the ancestor of most moths that are alive today was like a Poop-house caterpillar, and not like a typical caterpillar that you might find in your garden? Therefore, it seems that studying Mimallonidae will help researchers unravel the evolutionary history of butterflies and moths more broadly. This Notes from Nature expedition, which includes moths of this fascinating family, will be the first attempt to digitize and transcribe labels of an entire Mimallonidae collection, setting the stage for countless studies on Mimallonidae and Lepidoptera more broadly, by making images and data of hundreds of these specimens available to researchers around the world.

— Stacey L. Huber, Digitization Coordinator, McGuire Center for Lepidoptera & Biodiversity, Florida Museum of Natural History

Help NYBG solve history’s botanical mysteries! New Labs Expedition: “US State Spotter”

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The New York Botanical Garden Herbarium is pleased to launch its latest Notes From Nature project, “US State Spotter”, designed to uncover occurrence data from some of our oldest specimens from North America. As a participant, your focused mission is to help identify the correct US State where each plant specimen was found in the wild by interpreting clues from the original collection label.

This new expedition features a simplified workflow with easy-to-follow instructions, and should be a great introduction for those who have never tried interpreting scientific specimens before. That’s not to say this expedition will be easy! We suspect even veteran transcribers will enjoy a surprising challenge, since most specimens we are targeting feature old and handwritten collection labels. This is no coincidence, since we developed “US State Spotter” specifically to address persistent gaps in the sampling of older collections by crowdsourcing projects.

In the spirit of discovery, I hope you’ll help us classify these cryptic specimens so we can connect researchers to essential biodiversity data and build even more interesting and comprehensive virtual expeditions for the citizen science community!

Click here to join our pilot expedition featuring the sunflower family (Asteraceae) [Disabled now that the expedition is complete]

— Charles Zimmerman, New York Botanical Garden Herbarium, czimmerman@nybg.org

Nitrogen Fixers Part 3 — Missouri Botanic Garden Goodness

 Our next expedition featuring plants from the Nitrogen Fixing clade is here!  As you know, we have been busily collecting samples from herbarium specimens that will be used to look at the genomes of these plants.  We are looking in particular for the genes that are responsible for creating the root nodules that house nitrogen-fixing bacteria.  This symbiosis has allowed plants with these nitrogen fixing bacteria to survive in places where they usually cannot.

We plan to look at a portion of the genome for more than ten thousand species of the 35,000 or so in the nitrogen fixing group (which forms a natural grouping).  The photo below shows two of our champion samplers during our best day collecting ever – 322 species were sampled.  When we sample, we have to look through folders of herbarium sheets to find specimens that are relatively recent and that are in good shape for taking a small piece of tissue.  The specimen photos you are helping to digitize all have QR code coin envelopes in them, as you have noticed, and those are the same envelopes (with a little bit of tissue tucked inside) as in the photo.
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This new expedition (the third Nitrogen Fixing expedition) features specimens from the Missouri Botanic Gardens (MOBOT), which houses a fabulous collection of plants from around the world.  MOBOT has databased a lot of their material, and for us to be able to access databased specimens, we need to be able to reference the last name of the collector of the specimen and the collector number.   This makes for a fast expedition since those are the only two pieces of information we need right now.  We also hope you like learning about this remarkable group of plants, and we appreciate the help unraveling one of the most successful symbioses on the planet.

Swipe for Science!

 

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Can you spare a few moments to help identify flowers on images of museum specimens? We need help with a simple task, which will assist researchers who are studying phenology (cycles of events in the natural world).  All you need to do is download the Zooniverse mobile app, load up our first ever fully mobile expeditions, and swipe right if you see flowers and left if you do not.   It may be simple, but it will be a huge help for science.

The species we’ll be focusing on is called evening primrose.  The flowers of the evening primrose open quickly every evening, earning this plant its name.  Its flowering phenology is broadly late Spring through Fall but we don’t yet know much how that varies across geography and during different years with different weather patterns.

Here are more details to help you get started:

  • Download the Zooniverse app from Google Play or the App Store. Picture1
  • Select Nature and scroll to Notes from Nature. You don’t need to create an account if you don’t want to.
  • Select “Phenology II: Evening-primroses”
  • Read through the short tutorial. Be sure to check out the directions by clicking the “?” next to the question.
  • After that you will see an image of a plant specimen. Can you see flowers?  If yes, swipe right, and if no, swipe left.
  • You may need to zoom in to check for flowers. You can tap the image to engage the zoom feature and then use normal gestures to zoom in or out.

We know some folks have helped with this project using our web application, and that is still up and running as well.

Thanks for your time! If you enjoyed this project, then please check out notesfromnature.org.

We <3 New York Botanic Gardens (NYBG) and the first NitFix expedition finished

Back in October, we started an adventure that I am not sure has ever been tried before. We aimed to sample 15,000 species (!) of nitrogen fixing plants, with the goal of assembling one of the largest set of resources to better understand the underlying genomic innovations that led to nitrogen-fixing plants. The main resource we are using are small tissue samples (e.g. leaf and floral material) taken from already-collected samples stored in herbaria. Our first port of call was the New York Botanic Gardens, and the truly awesome staff there, especially Barbara Theirs and Charlie Zimmerman, but we owe thanks to the whole herbarium for making us feel so welcome.  We ❤ NYBG!

Here we are happily sampling:

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We collected about 1400 samples during our first visit, and we since have also begun to extract DNA from those samples. The great news is that we are having a lot of success with extractions, thanks to the hard work of Heather Rose Kates at the Florida Museum. We will talk more about the next steps in further blog posts, but we are excited about that success. We have also visited a lot more herbaria, including ones at Harvard University, the California Academy of Sciences, the Missouri Botanic Gardens, and the Ohio State University. We also just headed back to the New York Botanic Gardens and will be sampling there for many more weeks. We anticipate hitting our half way mark this week – 7500 samples!   That represents a huge amount of work!

The data we are getting from labels is really important for this work. Photo vouchers and labels link the genes to the specimen, both virtually and in a physical sense too. Label data will be used in a lot of the downstream analyses that come from this work and we are so thrilled that you helping this science happen. Nitrogen fixing is a key novel symbioses that really changed the world, we are hoping to learn how that novelty arose, and herbaria and their specimens may be an essential part of the key to telling that story. Your help is so important so a HUGE thanks for your work on the first NitFix expedition. There is already a second one up and a third one soon to follow.

A Huge Thank You with More to Come!

First off thank you so much for taking the time to help transcribe the “Banded Yellow Butterfly” expedition. This expedition was challenging, but you persisted and that shows the amount of care you have for helping natural history collections. Thank you also for providing comments and suggestions. They have been noted and where possible incorporated in to this next expedition for a smoother transcription experience. That being said, let me introduce you to our new expedition “Mixed Bag of Specimens” from the McGuire Center.

The McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity at the Florida Museum of Natural of History is home to one of the largest Lepidoptera collections in the world. Since the opening of the center in 2004, it is has grown rapidly and now has nearly 10 million specimens. The McGuire Center was founded by combining collections from the Allyn Museum (then located in Sarasota, Florida) and the Lepidoptera holdings of the Florida State Collection of Arthropods. While students and staff are constantly contributing to the collection, its growth is primarily due to donations from private collections.

With such big and vast collection, digitizing has taken place on all three floors of collections and with all different species. In this expedition, you will find a mixed bag of specimens to transcribe. All specimens are moths, but there are different species and various layouts. Don’t be discouraged, the information you seek is there.

As you know transcribing this data is extremely important part of the digitization effort. Thank you for taking the time to help! The information that you transcribe is essential to our ongoing research. It enhances data sets and helps answer questions about the history and behavior of these moths and butterflies. We value your contributions to the scientific community, and we thank you for devoting your time and effort to help us complete these butterfly projects.

— Stacey L. Huber, McGuire Center for Lepidoptera & Biodiversity, Florida Museum of Natural History

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