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.


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