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The Valdosta State University Herbarium

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Cabinets in the Valdosta State University Herbarium

The Valdosta State University Herbarium is a museum-quality collection preserving more than 65,000 dried plant specimens useful in research and teaching. The VSU Herbarium, a unit of the Biology Department of Valdosta State University and the second largest herbarium in Georgia, is a rich repository of data emphasizing the diverse flora of the coastal plain region of Georgia and, more generally, the flora of the southeastern United States. In addition to this geographic focus, the VSU Herbarium has taxonomic specialization beyond the southeastern region, with extensive holdings of sedges (Cyperaceae) and other graminoid families, and bryophytes (mosses).

Plant specimens in herbaria are the basis for the knowledge about where and when plants grow and their physical characteristics.  Herbarium specimens and associated data are standards for the application of plant names and are widely used by scientists as a basis for the descriptions and distributional maps in specialized literature related to plants. Consequently, they are an essential resource for anyone who needs plant names consistently and accurately derived. The herbarium is also employed extensively to document the locations of rare species and how their populations change over time. Data from herbaria are now being used to study shifts in the timing of reproductive patterns (flowering and fruiting) of plants relating to climate change.  Thus, herbarium specimens and data are useful to a variety of scientific researchers, not only botanists, but also ecologists, agricultural scientists and natural resource managers.  The VSU Herbarium is used intensively in research and teaching at Valdosta State University, and it provides materials used by researchers at other institutions through lending and exchange of specimens.

Although it originated in the 1930s as a teaching resource of several hundred specimens collected by Professor Beatrice Nevins, the VSU Herbarium was founded as a research collection in 1967 by Professor Wayne R. Faircloth.  In addition to Faircloth’s specimens, the VSU Herbarium includes significant collections of Charles Bryson, Richard Carter, Delzie Demaree, Robert Godfrey, Robert Kral, and Sidney McDaniel.  Since 1984, the VSU herbarium has more than doubled in size, growing at the rate of 1000-2000 specimens per year.  In 2001, the VSU Herbarium occupied new quarters with about 1500 sq. ft., more than twice the space of the old facility, and a modern dedicated climate control system with the capacity to maintain relative humidity below 60%.  Additional information about the VSU Herbarium can be found here. Through support from the National Science Foundation, all of accessions in the VSU Herbarium have been imaged, and we are currently building a database of label data from these specimens. Through a local collaborative effort with the VSU Odum Library, many of these images are currently available on-line at http://herb.valdosta.edu.

The VSU Herbarium needs your help in building this database!

–Richard Carter, Director of the Valdosta State University Herbarium

Seeking participants for December hackathon!

iDigBio and Zooniverse’s Notes from Nature Project are pleased to invite you to participate in a hackathon to further enable public participation in online transcription of biodiversity specimen labels.  The event will occur from December 16-20, 2013, at iDigBio in Gainesville, FL, though you may choose to participate in a subset of the days based upon the schedule.   We are especially looking for participation from the most enthusiastic and committed citizen science transcribers!  This is a great opportunity to have a direct influence on expanding this tool in the directions you would like to see it go.

The hackathon will produce new functionality and interoperability for Zooniverse’s Notes from Nature  and similar transcription tools.  There are four areas of development that will be progressively addressed throughout the week.

  1. Linking images registered to the iDigBio Cloud with transcription tools in order to alleviate storage issues.  (Monday)
  2. Transcription QA/QC and the reconciliation of replicate transcriptions.  (Remainder of week)
  3. Integration of OCR into the transcription workflow.  (Remainder of week)
  4. New UI features and novel incentive approaches for public engagement.  (Remainder of week)

There will be opportunities to narrow the focus in each category of activity in a teleconference tentatively scheduled for early in the week of November 25 (and also at the TDWG meeting and the iDigBio Summit, if you are attending either of those events).

If you are interested, please get in touch with Austin Mast (amast@bio.fsu.edu) by Wednesday, Nov 1.  iDigBio has budgeted some funds to support travel costs.

With best regards,

Austin and Rob Guralnick (UC-Boulder), co-organizers

A new milestone!

The Notes from Nature team is proud to report reaching the new milestone of 300,000 transcriptions completed!  This has been made possible by the generous and committed efforts of nearly 4,000 citizen scientists from around the globe.  We look forward to continuing the project and sharing more biological collections with you in the near future.  Thank you citizen scientists!

To continue growing and expanding, we are interested in your feedback.  What excites you the most from Notes from Nature so far?  How would you like to see it evolve?  Leave a comment and let us know!

On the radio!

This morning I had the opportunity to join WTJU’s Robert Packard on the Soundboard program to talk about Notes from Nature.  Click here to listen to the clip! 

A Case for Conservation

Here’s an interesting article entitled “Vanishing act: Conservationists make the case for saving Albemarle County’s rare and threatened habitats” from the C-Ville Weekly, one of the local news sources in Charlottesville, VA.  Have you found any specimen in Notes from Nature that come from habitats like the rock outcrop discussed in this article?  Some of the specimen in the Mountain Lake Biological Station collection were even collected right in this area!

 

 

250,000 Transcriptions!

Since our launch several months ago, the Notes from Nature citizen science community has transcribed 250,000 specimen labels!  This is an incredible achievement, and shows promise for where this project can go.  We’re indebted to the citizen scientists out there who love this work and have taken it upon themselves to contribute to science in this way.

Some highlights:

  • Over 3,500 citizen scientists from around the globe participating
  • Over 8,800 plant specimens completed (completion requires at least three transcriptions to ensure quality through consensus)
  • Over 16,000 insect specimens completed (same requirement as plants)
  • Over 25 bird ledger pages completed – these are WAY more time intensive, and were only added days ago (same completion requirement as others)

We’ve learned a lot during this period, and are now in the process of figuring out where to go next, and how to involve bigger crowds of citizen scientists and more interesting collections from around the world.  Our recent call for new collections has garnered interest from curators across the US and Europe, and we hope more will be in contact soon.  It’s a very exciting time.

Thank you for all your support!

Viva la revolucion

Notes from Nature recently surpassed its 200,000th transcription!  Given this milestone, it seems like a good opportunity for the Notes from Nature team to do two things: 1)  We want to show a bit more where – geographically – we have filled in some data gaps; 2)  We want to talk a bit more about the Bigger Picture.  Where do these transcriptions go after they get done!?  We have talked a lot about the scientific uses of these data, and individual projects, but there is a bigger mission and one the Museum world is grappling with right now — how to simultaneously live in an analog and digital world.

Before we talk more about the Big Push to digitize records and get them mobilized for the good of society, lets do something a bit more close to home.  Below is snapshot of an intensity map which shows work done by transcribers state by state.  We focus on the United States here simply because we have had good dropdown list for USA states and could therefore easily get this map made without too much muxing.  We have gotten have gotten a lot of help from transcribers in other counties and you can see more about that in our previous post. You can explore the map in more detail:  click here to see the map .   We made this by simply tallying each record with a particular name of a state, and then linking those state names using a service provided by Google called Fusion Tables.   California (with 64,346 transcriptions) and Florida (with 21,283) make up a lion share of the transcriptions, but there is a lot of effort in the Southeast and West as well.  All things one might expect given the regional foci of CalBug and SERNEC.  Surprising, North Dakota has 1,518 transcriptions completed and Minnesota 2,109!  Go Upper Midwest!

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Merge of nfncountrystateCOUNT and US Regions State Boundaries

All this work really does feed into a larger effort that is happening here in the United States and around the world to make museum data available for broad use.  This isn’t just for scientists, but also for formal and informal science education and the broader public.  Museum specimens are obviously of great value — they even tell us more than the who, what, where, when which serves as a basis for documenting trends in changes in distribution and seasonal and yearly timing events such as emergence from hibernation.  Each specimen yields further secrets — whether it is DNA that can be extracted from the tissues, body size and relation to physiology, and so on.  They also tell stories about landscapes and peoples in the past, and about our own histories.  In this sense, natural history tie into the much larger picture of multiple cultures.

Up until recently, if you wanted to see this vast treasure trove of data, you had to get a special pass to enter the collections, and there under the watchful eyes of curators and collections managers, you could examine specimens.  Museums have always been places where visitors are most welcome, but physically moving around specimens, and figuring out which collection had what remained a challenge.  While access is critical, museum curators have to balance considerations related to the conservation of these precious objects.

In the last ten years, a revolution is unfolding and museums worldwide are digitizing their collections so that the contents can be discovered, searched, and used more effectively and by more people.  This work is very challenging.  Many folks involved in this endeavor have lamented that years of databasing and a lot of time and effort invested in building system to publish data and make them available… and still only 2-3% of the total number of records in museums (based on our best estimates) are digitally discoverable.  We have to hope there is a way to make this whole process more efficient.

So at some point, CalBug and SERNEC will take the hard work done by transcribers and make those digital records available to everyone.  You can see some of the progress that has already happened by checking out projects such as VertNet, GBIF, Map of Life and iDigBio. One of the goals of these projects is to bring together data from various sources in order to create a “one stop shop” for the discovery of biodiversity information.

In sum, the bigger story is that we are witnessing a revolution in how museums make their resources available.  Thanks for taking part and viva la revolucion!

-Rob Guralnick

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