Archive by Author | mwdenslow

Here we go!

WeDigBio 2019 is just starting to kick off around the world. Here at Notes from Nature we have lots of great content. There are over 20 expeditions in 9 different projects.

We hope everyone has an enjoyable event and that we see lots of transcription activity and chatter on Talk. Please take a moment to connect on the chat board to tell us about your event or anything else you want to share.

— The Notes from Nature Team

Introduction to the Notes from Nature Orange County Expedition

Just in time for WeDigBio 2019, the California Phenology Network introduces a brand new expedition of California treasures. This new expedition features specimens from the UC Irvine Herbarium (IRVC). Most specimens were collected in Orange County, California: from its highest point, Santiago Peak (5,678 ft) in the Santa Ana Mountains, to low lying wetlands and coastline. We will also encounter specimens from the broader Southern California region, Southwestern United States, and Baja California, Mexico — lands of arid deserts, foggy coasts, shrubby hills, and rocky mountain slopes.

Orange County is a small, densely populated county in coastal Southern California. At around 800 square miles, it is home to nearly 3.2 million people. Over half of the land area, and thus vegetation, of Orange County has been transformed by human use. However, good examples of almost every vegetation community that historically existed still exist today due to the county’s network of public and private protected areas. Old herbarium specimens can help us get a more complete picture of the historic vegetation of Orange County.

In terms of plant diversity, 1431 species and 1525 taxa, 953 of which are native, are recorded for the county (Roberts Jr, 2008). Dudleya stolonifera and Pentachaeta aurea subsp. allenii are the only county endemics, that is, plants that are limited in range solely to Orange County. The taxonomic focus of our first expedition are the plant families Adoxaceae (elderberries), Aizoaceae (carpet-weeds), Apiacae (carrots), Asteraceae (sunflowers/daisies), and Brassicaceae (mustards).

This expedition will be the focus of several WeDigBio on-site events in Orange County and beyond. Get ready to see its transcription numbers soar!

The end of an era

Notes from Nature made a big transition back in May. Even though NfN 3.0 has been up and running we still had some unfinished business in terms of expeditions that weren’t completed on the old system. A few days ago we completed our last expedition from the “old” platform. This also means that this particular project on Notes from Nature will be retired for good.

Not to worry though we have lots of fun and exciting expeditions on our current platform! NfN is now organized around Projects so look around and explore expeditions that are available within each one. Remember that these Projects can be filtered by tags such as Plants, Bugs, Butterflies and so on.

We have some mixed feelings about all these changes. We are thrilled to move forward and continue to make improvements to NfN 3.0 (our current platform), but we had so many great expeditions, events and memories over the time that NfN 2.0 was running. The amazing Notes from Nature community completed over 1 million transcriptions and was visited by over 8,000 volunteers. We are so happy that the community is continuing to help us build this resource.  Thanks as well to our network of providers and our hope is that 3.0 is ultimately an easier and better experience for all involved.

With all that said remember that we still have some more upgrades to complete on NfN 3.0. For example, this includes a unified Statistics page, improvements to Talk, etc.

— With gratitude the Notes from Nature Team

WeDigBio 2019!

The Notes from Nature team is very excited about WeDigBio 2019. The event will take place October 17 – 20.


To our amazing volunteers:

We hope you’ll save the dates and join us online or in person at one of the many events happening at that time.

To our collaborators and data providers:

It’s always a fun and exciting time for us as we get to work with lots of new and existing colleagues! If you plan to host an expedition this year let us know as soon as possible.

Note that Notes from Nature has recently gone through an upgrade. Previous data providers that we have worked with will utilize their existing Projects on our site. Other providers expeditions will go into a WeDigBio themed Project that we’ll start building very soon. We will plan to have all expeditions within the WeDigBio project complete within a month of the end of the event. We have lots of activity on the site and we always aim to keep our content fresh and have expeditions complete in a timely fashion.

— The Notes from Nature Team

Where the butterflies roam

Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) are well-known for their long-distance migrations. Monarchs east of the Rocky Mountains spend their winters in Mexico, while those west of the Rockies head for the California coast. But there are others, like the painted lady (Vanessa cardui) and the California tortoiseshell (Nymphalis californica) that also make annual treks over hundreds of miles in response to the changing seasons.

DotPolka Tortoiseshell Lassen 2005 CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Tortoiseshell migration at Lassen Volcanic National Park, 2005. By DotPolka CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


But other butterflies, like blues, coppers, hairstreaks, and metalmarks, hardly move at all. Individuals and their offspring may never leave a single meadow or dune for many generations. Their caterpillars often feed on a single species of plant found in a particular habitat many miles from other similar habitats. Some even have intimate relationships with ants, whereby the ants take the larvae into their nests and care for them. Because of these particular (and peculiar) life histories, many species and subspecies of butterflies in the family Lycaenidae have very restricted distributions and are listed as either threatened or endangered. One subspecies, the Xerces blue (Glaucopsyche lygdamus xerces) that once lived in the coastal dunes of California, went extinct in the 1940s. Even the once common and widespread monarch has suffered massive population declines in the past two decades.

Xerces blue by Lucas Folglia

Xerces blue butterfly. By Lucas Foglia

New conservation efforts, however, are turning the tides for these imperiled imps of the sky. Captive rearing and release of threatened species of blues and checkerspots are establishing new populations to protect against local extirpation. Neighborhood programs to propagate native host plants have connected populations of green hairstreaks that were once isolated from each other. And concerned citizens across the country are planting milkweed to feed hungry monarch caterpillars.

EMEC463615 Callophrys dumetorum

Green hairstreak, Callophrys dumetorum

To aid this cause, our team at CalBug has been busy photographing butterflies in our collection. These historical records tell us how butterflies have responded to climate, land use, and other environmental changes over the past 100 years. With your help, we can map these changes over time and better focus our restoration efforts. And since we include the name of each species in the corner of each photo, and photos pop up in a random order, each new image is like a flashcard to help you learn to identify butterflies!

by Peter Oboyski



Lucas Foglia, c/o Essig Museum
Specimen images, c/o Essig Museum


Notes from Nature – NYBG: New expeditions to uncover global plant biodiversity!

NYBG - Notes From Nature-2

For over 125 years, the William and Lynda Steere Herbarium at the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) has served as a crucial resource for researchers around the world seeking to study and conserve plant biodiversity. Through projects dedicated to discovering new species, documenting regional floras, and deciphering complex evolutionary relationships within the plant kingdom, thousands of scientists have helped build our collection of 7.8 million specimens — representing the largest natural history archive of plants in the westen hemisphere. Now, plant lovers everywhere can support future scientific exploration at our institution by helping to document our specimens!

Virtual Herbarium Image

This specimen of Gentiana catesbaei “Elliott’s Gentian” was collected in 2016 by Wayne Longbottom, a former amateur naturalist turned active contributor to the NYBG herbarium.

Each NYBG “virtual expedition” will target a subset of our extraordinary collection to accomplish unique research objectives. Some projects will be dedicated to exploring particular geographic regions or specialized habitat types (such as alpine areas), and documenting plants that have been discovered there. Other projects may follow along on the expeditions of notable plant collectors in order to chronicle significant historical specimens. Lastly, we’ll aim to investigate evolutionary relationships and biogeography by cataloging all the occurrences of specific groups of plants scientists know are closely related. All the extraordinary new digital-datasets that citizen scientists help create will contribute profoundly to our understanding of the living planet and open new avenues for investigating long-term patterns in biodiversity change.

Virtual Herbarium Image

NYBG specimens frequently document occurrences of rare native species, like this carnivorous “pitcher-plant” Saracenia purpurea, collected in 1981 from Adirondack Park in New York State.

Citizen scientists who participate in Notes from Nature – NYBG will learn how to interpret natural history specimens and gather research using a variety of online tools to overcome challenges with deciphering historic collection labels. One of the most important resources for puzzle-solving will be the very database we are working to create, the C. V. Starr Virtual Herbarium, where we openly share all currently available data about our specimens. Your mission will be to help fill the gaps in our knowledge using the collections we have already digitized as a guide!

Virtual Herbarium Image

NYBG’s collections are not limited to land plants! This specimen of marine algae represents a separate branch of the tree-of-life, and demonstrates a more challenging hand-written collection label.

Most NYBG expeditions feature a comprehensive workflow designed to capture every essential detail which scientists routinely use: including precise geographic location, date, and collector information. For newcomers to natural history specimens and participants who are looking for a faster-paced activity, Notes from Nature – NYBG will also host “US State Spotter” expeditions, featuring a simplified workflow intended to efficiently capture basic geographic data about our specimens. Keep a lookout for other project types in the future as we experiment with new approaches for including the public in gathering scientifically relevant information from our renowned botanical collection!

Click to join our virtual expeditions today! 

Then discover The Hand Lens to learn more about the fascinating stories told by NYBG specimens.

–Charles Zimmerman, William and Lynda Steere Herbarium, New York Botanical Garden


“Islands in the Sky”: Alpine flowers and Climate Change

Diapensia_Photo 41450788, (c) bigjonel, some rights reserved (CC BY-NC)

Diapensia lapponica is an alpine specialist, growing only above treeline on mountains in the northeastern US. Photo © bigjonel

In the United States, alpine environments located above the trees on mountain peaks provide important habitat for Arctic tundra plants. Unique species grow under extreme conditions within these isolated “islands in the sky” which are rarely found elsewhere south of the Arctic circle. Alpine plants’ reliance on these high-elevation environments also makes them especially vulnerable to climatic change, which can dramatically impact the area and ecological functioning of alpine communities.

To understand how alpine plants are responding and adapting to their changing climate, the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) and Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) have teamed up with citizen scientists around the world to track geographic distributions and seasonal changes in these alpine species. Since 2004, AMC has been monitoring the timing of plant seasonal events like flowering and fruiting in conjunction with weather conditions. This is the study of phenology. Long term phenology data is a useful tool to quantify plant responses to climatic change and to identify which species might be most vulnerable to a shifting climate. To understand mountain phenology, researchers need a lot of data from different mountain ranges, elevations, and from many points in time. Fortunately, using herbarium records from the New York Botanical Garden, AMC researchers will be able to continue this investigation using historic records of alpine species collected during the past 200 years.

This is where citizen scientists come in! Our researchers need lots of help to collect data from recently digitized herbarium records of alpine species and other mountain plants. Specifically, we need help documenting when, where, and by whom each historic plant specimen was collected from the wild. Anyone with a computer and access to the internet can participate in this project by joining our virtual expedition on the Notes from Nature crowdsourcing platform. From there, you can view images of preserved plant specimens, interpret and transcribe key details from their collection labels, and report directly to scientists at the AMC and around the world who will use your data to understand and help protect these unique alpine plants.

Join our expedition to uncover historic records of alpine plant biodiversity!

While hiking in alpine areas, you can also provide valuable data for this project by capturing pictures of flowering species along the trail. The AMC is tracking current and future effects of climate change by gathering flowering and fruiting time data with the help of hikers with the Northeast Alpine Flower Watch project on iNaturalist:

–Charles Zimmerman, William and Lynda Steere Herbarium, New York Botanical Garden

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