Archive by Author | mwdenslow

Symposium on Major Motivations Across Scale for Digitizing Biodiversity (April 14th)

Three thought leaders reflect on major motivations to create digital info about biodiversity at international, national, and personal scales

When: Friday, April 14 · 3 – 4pm EDT (UTC -4)

Where: Online

Join us during this 1-hour symposium focused on the major motivations driving creation of digital data about the three billion insects on pins, fish in jars, fossils in drawers, plants on sheets, and other specimen types curated by the world’s museums, universities, government labs, botanical gardens, zoos, and elsewhere.



WeDigBio: Save the date April 13 – 16

The next WeDigBio is a month away! The event will take place on 13-16 April 2023. People from all over the world join together to digitize specimen data and to celebrate biodiversity collections. We hope you join us!

This is a fun and festive weekend at NfN. We’ll have “classifying blitz” here online at Notes from Nature, where we’ll classify as many Subjects as we can during the event. There will be new expeditions, and some of our data providers will host events such as online talks, tours, and discussions (and possibly some in-person events), so you’ll have opportunities to meet them and learn about their work.

Please invite your family, friends, and colleagues to participate too: as you already do, they can support support biodiversity research by digitizing natural history collections data. You’ll be able to follow along by looking for the #WeDigBio hashtag on Twitter and Facebook.

If you are a researcher interested in using Notes from Nature in your research please reach out (, we’d love to work with you for this event of one in the future.

— The Notes from Nature Team

Fraxinus Fruit Finder Preliminary Results

Back in October we launched an expedition on the Zooniverse mobile app called Fraxinus Fruit Finder. Fraxinus is the genus of ash trees in the Olive family (Oleaceae). The basic idea was to score the specimen as having fruit or not. It seems that most people found it straightforward to tell if fruits were present and enjoyed helping out. The expedition completed in just 4 days and 48 different volunteers contributed!

A Fraxinus specimen with fruit present. The straw-colored fruits are clustered on the lower part of the stem in the picture.

This effort is part of a much larger project related to ash trees and a beetle that feeds on it called emerald ash borer. The beetle is native to north-eastern Asia, but is now spreading around North America. It is currently mostly found in the eastern part of North America, but is likely to spread much further. There is tremendous concern about environmental and economic impacts that this beetle could have on native and introduced ash trees. Ash trees are abundant in many ecosystems and are also commonly planted in parks, along streets and are used in landscaping. A group of researchers from the Huntington Botanical Gardens in California is collecting ash seeds and leaf tissue from all over the United States with the hope of finding strains that are be resistant to emerald ash borer infestations.

One of the species of interest is called Fraxinus anomala, single-leaf ash. This species is unusual for ashes in that it is a shrub (most are big trees) and it has simple leaves (most have compound leaves). The single-leaf ash grows in very arid areas and tends to flower and fruit very irregularly which can make collecting seeds more challenging.

Line drawing showing the simple leaves of Fraxinus anomala compared with the compound leaves of other species. Image from Jepson eFlora.

That brings us to Notes from Nature! We had the idea to score as many specimens of single-leaf ash as we could to get a better sense of when to go seed collecting for the single-leaf ash.

The first question we asked was whether they could be scored using this Notes from Nature method and this preliminary expeditions indicates that is was a resounding success. There wasn’t a single discrepancy in the data as all volunteers agreed whether a specimen was in fruit or not.

There were 794 records in this expedition and we set the retirement to 5 meaning we collected a total of 4,109 entries. 370 (46%) specimens were found to be in fruit at the time of collection. We also wanted to know if there was a pattern to the fruiting date. The mean date of fruiting for our specimens was June 12th . The earliest date was March 24th and the latest date was Dec. 30th, which confirmed that it can fruit throughout the year. However, the majority of the fruiting specimens are from May and June. The plot below also shows that fruiting is very variable and can happen throughout the year.

Barplot showing the distribution of flowering dates among specimens used in the Fraxinus Fruit Finder expedition.

These results are very helpful and will greatly assist in seed collection this coming season. The next steps are to look at possible bias in the data as well as other factors that could affect fruiting time. For example, in the next phase we could look at elevation and latitude which could influence fruiting time.

Thanks again to all that contributed,

— Michael from the Notes from Nature Team

Plants of Southern Tennessee

Herbaria specimens are an important asset to many different fields of research. In this day and age, the need for a large, online database is growing. To create this database, specimens from herbaria have been digitized and uploaded into online platforms. However, to be able to utilize the online specimens in the database, crucial information such as locality string, habitat, collector, and date must be manually entered in. With the help of citizen scientists, growing online databases is accomplished much quicker and efficiently. 

This expedition will assist The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga undergraduate students Garrett Billings and Quinn Towery in completing the digitization process for the specimens in the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s herbarium found within the southern counties of Tennessee and northern counties of Alabama. With your help in completing this expedition, Garrett and Quinn will be one step closer to understanding the floristic diversity of the region. Join forces and utilize this advancement in technology to further our building of online databases for herbarium specimens.  Ultimately, this information will be used by many more scientists and environmental workers for different research topics for in many different fields of work.

Please visit the Southeast Biodiversity Project and the Plants of Southern Tennessee expedition at try.

— Garrett Billings, The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

Ambush of Tiger Beetles

Yesterday we launched a new Notes from Nature Project related to beetles! The goal is to document the distribution of beetles in time and space, taking advantage of the data associated with millions of specimens in natural history collections. We’re kicking it off with Tiger beetles.

Tiger beetles are some of the most voracious and most beautiful beetles in the world. They are extremely fast creatures, so fast that the world is blur to them as they run. Many have brilliant metallic colors as adults, but others are exquisitely camouflaged to match their background, whether it be small pebbles on the soil or the dazzling whiteness of sands on the beach. The larvae are also predators, lying in wait in the soil before they suddenly explode from their burrow to impale an unlucky insect on their scimitar-like mouthparts. Some species of tiger beetles are common and widespread, but others are found only in small areas: the matching color patterns protect them in that habitat but make it difficult to spread far beyond it. Some of the smallest populations are federally listed as threatened or endangered species. The goal of this project is to document the distribution of tiger beetles to better understand where species are to be found and their intimate relationship with their environment.

If Tiger beetles interest you please give the expedition Ambush of Tiger Beetles a try!

— Luciana Musetti, Curator of the Triplehorn Insect Collection, The Ohio State University

OC – Are They In Need Of Correction? – Part II

We are excited to announce the next installment in our series of Digi-Leap expeditions. The Digi-Leap project is focused on developing workflows to accelerate specimen digitization and make the data broadly available to museums and stakeholders alike. These Notes from Nature expeditions directly support the development of these new Digi-Leap tools.

Thanks to everyone that classified and provided feedback on the beta test of OC – Are They In Need Of Correction? We got 29 formal responses and lots of other feedback via Talk. We’ve made some changes to the help text based on this feedback and plan to make some changes to the interface early next year.

In the meantime, we plan to continue with some smaller expeditions using the new text correction task to help us collect more data, do some additional testing and perhaps receive more feedback from all of you.

If you enjoyed the last text correction expedition or just want to try it out then head over to our Labs Project and give it a try!

– The Notes from Nature Team

Help uncover the Virginia Military Institute Herbarium, a collection with deep roots in the botanical history of the state.

Nearly a century ago, the Flora Committee of the Virginia Academy of Science designated the herbarium of the Virginia Military Institute (VMIL) as a depository for specimens collected by this group.  The group intended to create a flora of Virginia through extensive collecting and correspondence among botanists in the state. As a result, VMIL has many historically important specimens that document the Ridge & Valley flora of the 1920’s and 30’s, prior to the reintroduction of white-tail deer, impacts of invasive plants and land-use change in Virginia. The collection is also rich in specimens from decades before and after, as well as a surprising number of specimens collected from outside the state.

A pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) specimen from Virginia Military Institute Herbarium

A word of note about transcriptions on this expedition. Most of the labels are handwritten in cursive script, and the scientific names need transcription. As a result, a bit more time and care are required for each label than is typical for most Plants of Virginia expeditions. Your efforts are greatly appreciated in making these data useable for research.

Please try it out the Plants of Virginia: Treasures of the VMIL Herbarium and help us digitize this important historical collection!

WeDigBio 2022 Appreciation

We closed out the last day of WeDigBio with over 3,900 classifications. That puts Notes from Nature at over 13,000 for the entire event.

Thanks to all the voluntters, moderators, presenters and as always the Zooniverse team for keeping the system running behind the scenes. Our heartfelt appreciation goes out to all the volunteers without whom we literally wouldn’t exist! Your contributions are critical and every classification is so important.

The good news is that Notes from Nature is open 24 hours a day 7 days a week, so if you enjoyed yourself please come back and consider spreading the word.

There are still lots of expeditions from a wide variety of organisms available on our site. 

— The Notes from Nature Team

8 hours left (WeDigBio 2022)

There is 8 hours left in WeDigBio 2022. Thanks to all that have contributed by hosting or attending events, worked on an expedition or helped spread the word about the importance of mobilizing biodiversity data. We had over 11,000 classifications completed so far.

We have lots of great content left at Notes from Nature and don’t forget to download the Zooniverse mobile app and give our mobile based expedition a try. You can find it listed under Biology, Nature or History.

— The Notes from Nature Team

WeDigBio 2022 – Day 2

Yesterday was a fun and productive day of WeDigBio. Notes from Nature has received over 7,000 classifications since the start of the event and we are exited to see all the activity.

A special shout out to friends in Arkansas that completed over 1,000 classifications during Day 2!

Clematis pitcheri (Purple Leatherflower) Photo: Theo Witsell

There are lots of expeditions to work on and we have another online talk later today. The talk is titled: County Floras in the Digital Age: Using Digital Specimen and Observation Records to Promote Biodiversity Conservation. See our previous post for more information and how to join.

– The Notes from Nature Team

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