Archive by Author | Andrew Sallans

Calbug fields and photos

Recent comments and questions in the discussion boards have drawn our attention to aspects of transcribing that were not clear. So, we changed a couple of things.

First, we removed the Host, Latitude and Longitude fields, because many of our labels do not contain this information.  Instead, we added an “Other Information” field where you can enter any information that is not included in the other fields. As explained in the help text, this includes things like the collecting method (e.g. malaise trap), collecting times, name of host plant, etc.  Previously, it was unclear whether you should enter locality information exactly as on the label or if you should interpret information, like abbreviations. Because many people are transcribing this highly-variable information, we would like you to enter the locality exactly as it says on the label. Otherwise, we will end up with multiple interpretations of the same locality. One exception is if there is an obvious misspelling that is not an abbreviation—it would be helpful if you use the correct spelling. Please keep looking up the country, state and county information if they are missing from the label. But, keep a lookout for locations with multiple potential counties, and do not enter a county if this is the case.

In the future we may call on you again to help us geographically reference (“georeference”) these localities. That is, determine the latitude and longitude of the localities and estimate the uncertainty around those points. It makes more sense to us to wait until we have completed the data entry so that we can group the records by locality and georeference each locality just once.

You may also have noticed that the photo quality for some of Calbug’s recent photographs is not very good. That’s because when Calbug started, we used different methods for photographing and a different type of camera. Don’t worry, the bad photos will be increasingly rare in the future.  To get an inside look at how we are taking photos now, check out this instructional video that we made last year for students and staff imaging our insect specimens.

-Joan Ball

What happened to the transcription progress?

One of the questions we have been grappling with at Notes from Nature is how to add more specimen images to the application while still showing a clear path of overall transcription progress.  On the one hand, we have many more specimen images lined up from both CalBug and SERNEC, and need to keep expanding the pool of interesting and scientifically important collections being transcribed.  On the other hand, we don’t want Notes from Nature citizen science transcribers to become frustrated by a seemingly bottomless pool and confused by constantly increasing and decreasing progress bars.  In attempting to address this challenge, we’re going to do some small tests.  We’ve added some new specimen in recent days, and would like to hear what you think about these additions.  Among the new additions, we have about 74,000 new bugs, including many bombardier beetles, dragonflies, and damselflies, as well as about 13,500 new plant specimen.  Do you like that we’ve added these new specimen images?  Were you worried by the drop in transcription percentages?  Should we work to complete “missions” with smaller subsets before adding more content?  Whatever the case, check out the new specimen on Notes from Nature!”

What collections would you like to see?

We hope that you’ve been enjoying the variety of collections in Notes from Nature so far.  If you’ve followed recent conversations, you’ll know that we have plans to add much, much more.  There are billions of possible specimens that could be transcribed through this project.  If you have manage a collection, please get in touch with us to express your interest.  If you are a citizen scientist with a favorite local collection, please share the Notes from Nature project with collection managers and encourage them to reach out to us.

A great way of advancing this discussion would be via the Notes from Nature Talk section here:

Are you a teacher?

If you are a teacher, and you love Notes from Nature and other Zooniverse projects, now is a great time for you to get more involved.  Zooniverse is offering a Teacher Ambassadors Workshop on August 8-9, 2013, in Chicago, IL at the Adler Planetarium.  This is a fully-funded opportunity to learn more about how Zooniverse works and how to integrate materials into teaching curriculum.  Apply now!

“What’s in bloom?”

Have you enjoyed contributing to scientific research by transcribing plant specimen labels in Notes from Nature?  If you like this, you may also be interested in the UVA Mountain Lake Biological Station’s “What’s in bloom” volunteer, citizen science wildflower bloom monitoring project.  You can find out details about it here: .  This is another great opportunity to contribute to science, interact with researchers, and enjoy nature.

Tending Our Notes from Nature Garden

Sometimes in the shuffle of getting things done, we forget to explain the simplest things.   For example, where do all these images come from?  Are there more to do when these are done?   What the heck is a CalBug or a SERNEC?

So lets answer some of these questions as best we can.  As we mentioned in the “About” section of Notes from Nature, CalBug and SERNEC are both regional consortia of natural history collections — CalBug focused on western North American (predominately) insects and SERNEC on southeastern United States plant specimens.

Lets turn to the SERNEC records first.  Right now the following herbaria  (or single plant collection) are featured on the site:  The R. K. Godfrey Herbarium at Florida State University, with 8,368 specimen images available and the Mountain Lake Biological Station Herbarium at the University of Virginia with 6,990 specimen images.  Soon we plan to load a third collection of 13,511 images from the herbarium at the University of South Alabama.   This represents a small proportion of the millions of specimens found in southeastern United States herbaria, so there is still a LOT of work to do here.

CalBug has about 230,000 images already taken,of which ~33,000 have been already made available via Notes from Nature, with another 28,000 to be added shortly.  These mostly come from the Essig Entomology Museum at U.C. Berkeley but also from U.C. Riverside and the California Academy of Sciences.  CalBug will also be adding more images in the future.   The ones there now represent a select group of insect taxa including: bombardier beetles  (genus = ‘Brachinus’ or genus = ‘Metrius’), cuckoo wasps (family = ‘Chrysididae’), odonates or dragon flies,  (order = ‘Odonata’), skippers (family = ‘Hesperiidae’), and tiger beetles (genus = ‘Cicindela’ or genus = ‘Omus’ or genus =’Amblycheila’).

Profile of Notes from Nature Citizen Scientist: “jaymoore”

Name: Jonathan Moore (user jaymoore)

Country of residence: UK

What sort of science background or interest do you have? I work in scientific research using Bioinformatics looking at plant, microbe and human gene expression. I’m particularly interested in the herbarium records, as I’ve used the Kew Gardens herbarium in the past and found it a fascinating place.

What do you find most exciting about Notes from Nature? I love reading the careful notes and imagining the collector in the middle of nowhere, in the sun or rain, finding their plant and taking their samples and data.

What’s the most exciting aspect of citizen science work from your point-of-view? I think it’s great that the work of people over the years is being brought into the digital age, so the data can be analysed using modern methods, and I think it’s exciting that people are getting exposed to these different kinds of data sets. It’s exciting to be part of new discovery!

What other citizen science projects (including beyond Zooniverse) have you participated in? I did quite a lot of the exoplanet scoring in Zooniverse, and enjoyed that as a rather addictive game. I was one of the participants among those who spotted 4 exoplanets, and enjoyed that experience. I completed a few of the ship’s weather log records and I’ve also participated in a Kaggle data mining competition so far and came 177th. I’m working on getting a citizen science project off the ground into exploring gene expression.

What to do about too much information?

If you’ve been working on transcribing labels in Notes from Nature, you may have run across some labels that have more information than you’d expect, or possibly what appears to be conflicting information.  Sometimes, this is the product of an original collector’s identification being reanalyzed and “determined” by a later collector or curator.  Take a look at this Notes from Nature discussion to see how you might deal with such discrepancies:

Notes from Nature Team Member: Aly Seeberger

Name: Aly Seeberger

Title: Graduate Student in Museum & Field Studies

Where do you work primarily? As a graduate assistant in the Zoology collections for the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History.

What you do in your day job? Anything and everything, from skinning and prepping specimens to cataloging and data entry. Once I carried a taxidermied egret across campus and someone asked me if it was alive.

What’s your role with NfN and what do you hope to gain from it?  If relevant, how will your research benefit?  My role with NfN is primarily “interested party”, but I have helped with some of the text development and beta testing for the program. I hope to integrate NfN and its users into my master’s thesis, with deals with citizen science participants’ motivations. This research will benefit the citizen science community at large by making it easier for institutions to identify and fulfill the needs of participating citizen scientists, and by satisfying these users so that their work with citizen science projects is as rewarding as it can be.

What’s the most exciting aspect of citizen science work from your point-of-view? There is essentially nothing about citizen science that I don’t find exciting, but I think for me the best part of these projects is the potential for exposure to “real science” in a way that few people get, especially those who don’t work in scientific disciplines. There is something about seeing a scan of a museum ledger, a piece of ancient papyrus or a ship’s log, that makes this data real in a way that I think really makes it meaningful. For us, museum records themselves may not be so thrilling, but even those are a glimpse into a behind-the-scenes part of the field that few people have access to, and that is a huge draw as well as a really interesting and rewarding experience.

Profile of Notes from Nature Citizen Scientist: “El_Lion”

Name (or userid if you prefer to remain more private): Eliane Escher (userid: El_Lion and I have no idea how my friend came up with that!)

Country of residence: Switzerland. Born and bred. 🙂 Sorry in advance for my English!

What sort of science background or interest do you have? I’m a lab technician at a molecular biology lab at the university. The span of species I worked with range from woody plants to fruit flies. I was always interested in sciences. Probably, I’m curious (no, I didn’t say nosy!) and interested in the “how” and “why” of stuff going on out there.

What do you find most exciting about Notes from Nature? There’s so much arduous work done by so many people to collect all those species. I know how it is to work in the field. It can be fun sometimes but often enough you get to the point where you ask yourself “what am I doing here??”.   Especially, when you’re cold, wet, and feel miserable. And then you need this certain persistence to meticulously investigate and determine the species. I think it’s great that Notes from Nature honors this work by preserving the data and making them available in a digital form, easier to use for nowadays (and future) scientists.

What’s the most exciting aspect of citizen science work from your point-of-view? The “swarm technology” (can I call it that?). I like to compare it to an ant which alone doesn’t get very far but together with thousands of others can build an ant hill. It’s exciting to be part of such a “swarm”. Maybe one day I can proudly say “I contributed to those new results”.

What other citizen science projects (including beyond Zooniverse) have you participated in? I participated only in the ones from Zooniverse. I got to know about Zooniverse through a TV docu in the BBC. However, the Mars project they had portrayed seemed a bit boring to me, so I tried out other ones. So far, I participated in the Serengeti picture project (which turned out to be a bit addictive :-)), in the Seafloor Explorer project and in the Cancer Cell Slides project.

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