We wanted to take a moment to thank all that have helped with the NitFix expeditions. There has been a fantastic response to this project on Notes from Nature. The 5th expedition is currently at 17% complete and four expeditions have finished so far with over 15,000 transcriptions already completed!
Today there are researchers from the NitFix team collecting more samples at the Missouri Botanical Garden herbarium for analysis. This is one of the largest herbaria in the world with over 6.6 million specimens. To date the NitFix team has had 90% sequencing success meaning that they have been able to get genetic sequences from 90% of the samples collected. That is a really good considering that all of these samples have come from herbarium specimens as opposed to fresh plant tissue.
Our West Coast entrant is the California Academy of Sciences herbarium, who were kind enough to host us for three weeks in January for a marathon effort to sample herbarium sheets. Our worked focused on the very strong collections of nitrogen fixers from Mexico and Central America.
So its East Versus West in an epic transcription battle! We’ll update how each expedition is doing in terms of weekly effort and see who will get the crown.
Finally a very quick update that we are motoring through extracting DNA from all our samples, and have had excellent success so far getting DNA from most of our samples. We’ll have more to report about sequencing efforts, which are now underway, in a follow-up post.
Rob Guralnick and Ryan Folk, Florida Museum of Natural History
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.
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
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.
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
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!
— Charles Zimmerman, New York Botanical Garden Herbarium, email@example.com
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.
- 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.