Log historical marine biodiversity with Invertebrate Time Machine

We’re excited to launch a new Notes from Nature Project, Invertebrate Time Machine! Our mission: to unearth and mobilize data from historically important marine invertebrate museum specimens which are not yet available to researchers for addressing pressing scientific questions. The California Academy of Sciences has tens of thousands of old 3×5 index card copies of specimen jar labels. Their data were never entered in an online database, and remain largely invisible to the greater scientific community. Once captured, the potential of this data to inform science and marine conservation will be unlocked, permitting scientists to “travel” back in time by viewing historical occurrence records for marine animals including where, when and how they were collected, enabling new discoveries and important comparisons with current marine populations. Open access to this type of data has become increasingly important as marine habitats and ocean conditions change through time. Understanding the natural state of habitats towards their conservation requires documenting their history.

Think you’re not familiar with marine invertebrate animals? Well you probably are! These sponges, worms, corals, snails, crabs, starfish (and many more) lack backbones…invertebrates have a huge diversity of forms, from giant squid to tiny “sea pea” urchins. There are 35 major groups (phyla) of these familiar creatures, whereas all vertebrate animals make up part of one phylum. Marine invertebrates are more poorly known than fish and other marine vertebrates, yet they comprise about 97% of all marine animals so studying them is crucial to understanding marine biodiversity. If you’re already familiar with invertebrates, you might also know that scientists believe only 10% of marine species are known to science so far. Museum collections help us to document and study animal diversity to better inform conservation of both species and marine habitats.

Our old card cataloging system is no longer in use, and data for most of these cards were never captured digitally. We’ve made scans of these cards available for transcription using the Invertebrate Time Machine and we’re excited to embark on the first Notes from Nature expeditions to capture global data for diverse marine invertebrate phyla. We need your help entering card data into the correct fields, where they will then be searchable and visible online by scientists and members of the public around the world. Will you help marine scientists travel back in time by joining our project? We look forward to traveling with you!

— Christina Piotrowski, Collections Manager of Invertebrate Zoology, California Academy of Sciences

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