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
First off thank you so much for taking the time to help transcribe the “Banded Yellow Butterfly” expedition. This expedition was challenging, but you persisted and that shows the amount of care you have for helping natural history collections. Thank you also for providing comments and suggestions. They have been noted and where possible incorporated in to this next expedition for a smoother transcription experience. That being said, let me introduce you to our new expedition “Mixed Bag of Specimens” from the McGuire Center.
The McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity at the Florida Museum of Natural of History is home to one of the largest Lepidoptera collections in the world. Since the opening of the center in 2004, it is has grown rapidly and now has nearly 10 million specimens. The McGuire Center was founded by combining collections from the Allyn Museum (then located in Sarasota, Florida) and the Lepidoptera holdings of the Florida State Collection of Arthropods. While students and staff are constantly contributing to the collection, its growth is primarily due to donations from private collections.
With such big and vast collection, digitizing has taken place on all three floors of collections and with all different species. In this expedition, you will find a mixed bag of specimens to transcribe. All specimens are moths, but there are different species and various layouts. Don’t be discouraged, the information you seek is there.
As you know transcribing this data is extremely important part of the digitization effort. Thank you for taking the time to help! The information that you transcribe is essential to our ongoing research. It enhances data sets and helps answer questions about the history and behavior of these moths and butterflies. We value your contributions to the scientific community, and we thank you for devoting your time and effort to help us complete these butterfly projects.
— Stacey L. Huber, McGuire Center for Lepidoptera & Biodiversity, Florida Museum of Natural History
There are almost 500 non-native plants that now call Tennessee home. These plants threaten native Tennessee ecosystems. Detection and monitoring, of these species present tremendous challenges to conservation groups. As a first line of defense, organizations such as the Tennessee Invasive Plant Council (TN-IPC) work to list and rank non-native species. Up until recently, organizations such as these have relied heavily on expert opinion and experience to rank non-native species. However, with the onset of metadata technology, the ability to access large amounts of information has transformed the ways in which we might enhance our understanding of the threat non-native species pose across the landscape.
This expedition will assist University of Tennessee at Chattanooga graduate student Courtney Alley (@Calley2012) in collecting data for her thesis research that will utilize this advancement in technology to further our understanding of non-native plant species. Ultimately, this information will be used to map the locations of these invasive plant species and eventually determine a pattern of spread throughout the state. With your help, we can use these data to develop more effective detection and monitoring techniques for non-native plants!
— The NfN Team