You may notice some changes to the Notes from Nature webpage rolling out this week. The main Notes from Nature page is called the Organization landing page and takes users to all the Projects that are hosted on the Notes from Nature site. The updates related to the Organization model were outlined in a post back in May.
You can now see Active, Paused and Finished Projects. In addition, you can hide and show the details of those sections.
At Notes from Nature, we are particularly excited about another update that the Zooniverse is working on. It is a new page that will let you dive even deeper into an Organization’s statistics which will again show us statistics across all Notes from Nature Projects and expeditions. That page will be rolled out in early 2020.
If you have comment about the changes we encourage you to post in the Notes from Nature Talk Chat board.
— The Notes from Nature team
Do you know what’s the most abundant terrestrial vertebrate in some areas of the United States? It’s not a species of mammal or bird, but an amphibian! The Eastersn Red-backed Salamander is only a few inches long, but in some parts of its range its biomass outweighs that of white tailed deer. Despite how abundant they are, you’ve probably never seen one before as they live under rocks, logs, and in the soil of eastern deciduous forests. An interesting feature of this abundant salamander is its variation in color. When a plant or animal displays two or more color patterns (or morphs) this is known as color polymorphism. The Eastern Red-backed Salamander displays two color patterns, which are known as the “striped morph” and the “unstriped morph”. The striped morph has a red stripe running down the center of it’s black back, and the unstriped morph is uniformly black.
Striped (left) and unstriped (right) morphs of the Eastern Red-backed Salamander.
Because of their abundance, the Eastern Red-backed Salamander is a well studied animal among biologists. Many individuals have been collected and deposited into museums over the last century, and thus, these collections provide an ideal opportunity for biologists to ask a series of questions on the evolution of this salamander. However, research is currently limited by the fact that the morph color was not indicated when salamanders were deposited into collections.
So that is where we need your help! First of all, this new expedition is not as simple as looking for a red stripe. When you preserve a salamander in alcohol for 50 years, which is how they are usually stored in museum collections, the once vibrant color disappears. However, the stripe doesn’t fade to black, it fades a lighter shade of pale. So we are hoping you can help us find the striped morphs and sort them from the unstriped morphs. The crazy thing is that it isn’t like there are a few hundred or thousand of these Plethodon specimens in Museums. One collector who deposited his collections in the Smithsonian actually collected nearly 100,000 salamanders. We may not get around to photographing all of those, but your help with this batch both helps us move the science forward and it helps us with potentially developing machine learning approaches so that we can eventually automate stripe detection.
With help from amazing citizen scientists, once we have color morph information from photographs, we can then use this data to ask unanswered biological questions. For example, we can see if the frequency of the color morphs has changed over time and if they do, we can test if there’s a relationship between the change in color morph frequency with changing climate. In addition, we can see if there’s a relationship between a particular color morph with particular ecological setting. Ultimately, this information will contribute to our growing knowledge of the relationship between color variation and diversity.
For more information on the Eastern Red-backed Salamander, we suggest you check out AmphibiaWeb: https://bit.ly/32q5F6L
Another blog post on the Eastern Red-backed Salamander by an amazing undergraduate student (Kyle Brooks) that previously worked with the author and also contributed photos for this post and the Notes for Nature project. Thanks, Klye!
And finally, another project we could use your help with:
WeDigBio 2019 was a major success! Notes from Nature received over 27,000 transcriptions during the four day event period. We even had two days with over 9,000 transcriptions and broke our previous daily record.
We want to thank the WeDigBio organizers, all the event hosts and most of all the volunteers that participated onsite or online. A special mention goes out to Notes from Nature volunteer am.zooni who is always willing to help in so many ways. We also want to thank the Zooniverse team for always keeping things running smoothly during times with such heavy site traffic.
We finished 5 expeditions during the event, but we still have lots of great expeditions that need attention including plants, butterflies and bees.
You can learn more about the WeDigBio event by checking out a paper published last year.
— The Notes from Nature Team
We closed out WeDigBio day 4 with 2,967 transcriptions! That put us at 27,060 transcriptions for the entire event. This surpassed all of our previous years for this event!
There are still many great expeditions to work on! Two are currently above 90% and could use some effort to help bring them to completion. Those are WeDigFLPlants’ Buckeyes, Sumacs, and Citrus of Florida and Fresno State Herbarium (Part 1).
Thanks to all for making this another huge success.
— The Notes from Nature Team
WeDigBio 2019 day 3 was another very big day at Notes from Nature. Notes from Nature received 5,123 transcriptions. So far we are over 24,000 transcriptions for the entire event! To put that in perspective, our most productive WeDigBio so far was in 2017 with over 19,000 transcriptions.
Here is a fun news clip from our wonderful partners at the Field Museum in Chicago. If you look closely you can see our colleague Matt von Konrat’s shirt reads “FinleyDigsBio” a reference to Finley Middle School, a local school that participated in the event.
Remember to check #WeDigBio Twitter through out the event for more exciting developments!
— The Notes from Nature Team
It’s not all about the numbers though. We’d love to hear about everyone’s experience at at an onsite event or participating online. Feel free to check in on NfN Talk.
We are so grateful to each and everyone who participated. Remember to check #WeDigBio on Twitter through out the event for more exciting developments!
— The Notes from Nature Team
Specimen collectors often have deep experience with the natural world, and occasionally they notice things that aren’t as they expected. In a recent survey of over 220 collectors from across taxonomic disciplines (botanists, ornithologists, entomologists, etc.), over half (59%) reported documenting the anomalies that they observe on their specimen labels, which is great. However, there is a huge diversity of ways in which they do this, which makes it hard to find their observations. When asked to provide words that they use in those descriptions, survey respondents gave 170 unique words and phrases. Most of these words and phrases can be used in ways that might not communicate an anomaly. For example, “early” is a frequently cited word to describe a phenological anomaly (i.e., an anomaly related to the timing of life history events). “Flowering early” is an observation of an anomaly; “specimen collected in early morning” is not. Even words that might be thought straightforward, like “Strange”, appear in ways that are not documenting an anomaly (e.g., “Strange Road” as a place name).
With this new project, “How Weird is That?”, we are seeking help to classify specimen records as including an observation of an anomaly or not. These classifications will then be used to train machines to differentiate between the two cases. To ensure that some of the records being considered include observations of anomalies, we’ve searched the 120 million specimen records at iDigBio for each of 25 terms cited by collectors as useful in describing them. In the project’s first Notes from Nature Expedition, we included all of the records that have images associated with them and that contain the terms “early”, “earlier”, or “earliest”. The second expedition includes records that use the terms “late”, “later”, or “latest”. After that, we will do a second late-later-latest set of specimens, then move on to other terms like “weird”, “abnormal”, and “odd”. The further classification of statements of anomalies as being about phenology, distribution, or other things will be used in to refine the machine learning step. Once the machines have been taught to flag assertions of an anomaly, it can be a much faster hand-off of that information to those who could use the information, such as those studying invasive species or mismatches in the arrival of migratory birds and emergence of the insects that they eat.
Finally, a few things to note. We have the expectation that most images that are associated with specimen records will contain the specimen labels, but that is not always the case. So as not to bias the sampling and diminish the utility of the machine learning rules that we arrive at, we have not removed any records from the datasets by acting on potentially faulty assumptions, such as “images of fossils don’t ever contain labels” or “bird images are only ever made in the field and not after specimen preparation is complete.” This leads us to an important point: specimens are preserved plants, insects, birds, fish, etc. If you think that viewing dead organisms, whether in the field (e.g., a photo of a beached whale) or after preservation (e.g., an insect on a pin), will trigger unpleasant reactions for you, we encourage you to contribute to science in a different Notes from Nature project. Also, please note that some handwriting on labels is hard to read. If that’s the case for something you see, use “Uncertain” as a response, and we will check it later. Finally, please be assured that classifications of specimen records as not containing an observation of an anomaly are as valuable to our process as finding those that do. The machines need both to learn how to differentiate.
We are tremendously grateful to participants in this activity and hope to keep things interesting throughout this data creation campaign by remaining engaged in Talk and providing occasional blog updates. Thank you and enjoy!
— Austin Mast, Florida State University