The NitFix team is ready to make it to the finish line with herbarium transcriptions! Sequencing efforts are nearly complete and exciting results are on the horizon. Already our work is providing glimpses into how plants form root nodules—uncovering key differences and similarities across millions of years of evolution of this important symbiosis between plants and microbes. More than ever, establishing links specimens between genetic data and specimen collection information is critical as we move into new work assessing the evolutionary and climatic context of today’s nitrogen-fixing species — work in which your transcription efforts will have a direct impact! We really appreciate your help getting us to completion.
-Ryan Folk and Rob Guralnick
[Above Figure – Cercis glabra, an Asian species and one of the few legumes with no root nodules that lacks the nitrogen-fixing symbiosis. Understanding groups like these is a major goal of the NitFix project as we seek to understand the earliest origins of nodules and shed light on engineering them into today’s crops]
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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!
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!
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
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.
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
California State University herbaria at Long Beach and Los Angeles have teamed up once again to bring us exciting new specimens from California and beyond. Explore the world of dainty sunbonnets, lanky loosestrife, graceful meadowfoam, and fantastic phlox as you help these two small collections capture critical biodiversity data.
Data from our first California Phenology Network expedition are already served live in our growing data portal. The CAP Network thanks all the dedicated Notes from Nature volunteers for their contributions toward liberating these data for immediate use in research, conservation, and education. Maybe keep track of a favorite specimen or two during this next expedition; in a few months, you may find your hard-earned transcriptions loaded and ready to empower new discoveries.