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Introduction to Notes From Nature

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Michael Denslow collecting plants in central Tennessee, USA.

Humans have been collecting specimens from the natural world for centuries. These specimens include samples of rocks, minerals, plants, fungi and animals. In fact, a lot of the knowledge that we have about the earth’s plants and animals is based on specimens that were collected in nature. These specimens are now housed in natural history museums. The world’s great exploration expeditions often included teams of scientists that documented the things that they saw along the way. For example, Lewis and Clark’s expedition of the western United States resulted in the discovery of hundreds of plants and animals that were new to science.

Today, there are an estimated 2 billion specimens housed in natural history collections around the world. This incredible resource provides us with baseline information about the biodiversity of the earth. In addition, the data resulting from these specimens has been used to address a wide range of society’s pressing issues such as public health and environmental change.

However, for this resource to be used to it full potential there must be better digital access to the collections. Most natural history collections are housed in museum cabinets, where they are not easily available to citizens and researchers. It is estimated that only about 1/3 of all natural history specimens are available digitally over the Internet! In effect, the other 2/3 of this biodiversity information is locked away from view. This is despite the fact that the natural history museum community is committed to providing access to this data.

The Notes from Nature project is about digitally unlocking this treasure trove of biodiversity data. Contributions from the public or informally trained people have always played an important role in the field of natural history. These citizen scientists, as they are now called, have made many important contributions, including collecting specimens and even describe new species. Today’s technology provides us with new ways for people to engage with natural history collections, and to help promote access to this biodiversity resource.

The Notes from Nature project has built a tool that enables citizen scientists to make a scientifically relevant contribution though the transcription of specimen label information. Please consider helping us unlock this important information by taking some notes from nature. Every transcription that is completed brings us closer to the goal of providing access to this critical resource.

Take Notes From Nature!

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