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Celebrating our 1st Anniversary @ NYBG

Wondrous news everyone!! Today marks one year since we launched The New York Botanical Garden standalone project on Notes from Nature. By all accounts, it’s been a year that’s defied expectations and challenged us all. One constant has been our endless amazement by the talent, determination, and creativity of this incredible community. Your collective accomplishment has been outstanding, and we at NYBG are humbled by your support!

When we launched our first expedition “Islands in the Sky: Alpine Plants and Climate Change”, we never could have expected so many would pitch in to help study plant responses to our changing earth. Now, 12 months (and 13 expeditions) later, more than 850 Notes from Nature – NYBG participants have finished 23,992 full-record classifications, providing scientists access to 7,131 botanical samples and their critical data. On top of that, through your whirlwind completion of “State Spotter” and “Globe Spotter” expeditions, you explored 209 countries and classified higher-geography for over 150,000 collections! Together, these samples represent over 28,526 unique plant species, 5,082 genera, and 348 major plant families–a true cross-section of the taxonomic breath of NYBG.

No less impressive are the multitude of ways you all have all helped improve and refine the precious digital data already held at NYBG. From spotting over 83 previously unrecorded specimens and mixed collections, to identifying hundreds of revisions to location names, collector identities, expedition dates, and more! You have all had an enormous positive impact, benefiting generations of scientists for years to come.

Building upon chance observations, collaboration, and meticulous research in our Virtual Herbarium, Notes from Nature – NYBG participants have raised the bar for “citizen science”, becoming adept and intrepid explorers of natural history archives. I’d love to share and celebrate some of their impressive stories of discovery. I encourage others to add links to your favorites in the accompanying TALK comment thread!

Unmasking the The “Band of Brothers”: Samuel and Sylvio

Discovering the “Gulf of Mexico” … in Vermont!

Deciphering James Colnett’s 1787 Expedition to Alaska

Numeric Nuances of Lucy and Heller

Finding “Flatrock” and the Troubling History of Gibbes and Shoolbred

The Enigmatic “Mrs. Day” and her hand behind the collections

(Thanks @Am.Zooni for your help gathering some of these finds)

I’ll close by saying there is no telling where the next year will lead, but I have no doubt we can count on all of you to be alongside us and make the most of every moment. We are so grateful to be on your team!


Charles Zimmerman @Czimmerman

New York Botanical Garden (NYBG), William and Lynda Steere Herbarium

WeDigBio 2020 Save the Date

The Notes from Nature team is very excited about WeDigBio 2020. The event will take place October 15 – 18. More information to come as we finalize out plans for this event. We hope you join us!

More about WeDigBio:

Worldwide Engagement for Digitizing Biocollections (WeDigBio), is a global data campaign, virtual science festival, and local outreach opportunity, all rolled into one. The annual, 4-day WeDigBio event mobilizes participants to create digital data about biodiversity specimens, including specimen slides, plants on sheets, insects on pins and more. This year you can expect lots of online events and webinars that you can join as your scheduling and interest allows.

— The Notes from Nature Team

Phantastic Phoebis

The Cloudless Sulphur, Phoebis sennae is a bright yellow butterfly that is frequently found in southern United States, but can be found west to the Rockies and north to Canada, and even the Caribbean and South America. The genus Phoebis refers to the Greek god Apollo and infers “bright and pure,” while sennae refers to the host plant (Fabaceae, which are legumes). Phoebis sennae, like the Monarch butterfly also migrates south in the winter to Florida to escape the cold weather. The species has declined since the 1980s, and is thought to be linked to increased herbicide use. For more information check out this Featured Creatures website.

Most specimens (but not all) have two images per moth, dorsal and ventral. The reason for this is because there sometimes is critical information on the back of labels. So be sure to check both images! While checking both images, look at the amazing shapes and minute coloration of the moth. Thank you so much for your help!

Transcription generally follows standard Notes from Nature protocols. Please be sure to write all pertinent information to the corresponding field. Please type all label data exactly as written on the label. The one field that is unique to McGuire is sampling protocol (collection method). This is how the person collected the specimen. It could be net, but often with moths it is some type of trap or light. Please write verbatim what is on the label.

— Laurel Kaminsky, Digitization Manager, McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity

Nitpicking: Combing Through the Lice of the University of Minnesota Insect Collection

We are launching a new Notes For Nature expedition, in partnership with the Terrestrial Parasite Tracker project, called Nitpicking: Combing Through the Lice of the University of Minnesota Insect Collection! In this expedition you will see slide-mounted specimens of Phthiraptera, mostly from the United States.

Parasitic arthropods, such as sucking and chewing lice, inflict an enormous burden on human society, in terms of human and animal health. The negative effects of parasitic arthropods appears to be increasing as climates and ecosystems change. The label data on these specimen slides are invaluable. By helping to transcribe this data, you will make it available to the scientific research community. Analyzing them can help us to understand how parasites, their host species, and the pathogens they carry interact and contribute to vectoring diseases.

So far, thousands of slides have been digitally imaged. Now, the University of Minnesota Insect Collection needs as many people as possible to help transcribe the information on the specimen labels – such as the species name, the location and date of where the louse was collected, and the host animal the louse was found on – so that the data can be used for scientific research. This data will be used to help build a database of parasite-host associations and disease vector distributions. This database will provide needed baseline information for research and management of the ecological interactions among parasites, pathogens, and their hosts in North America.

Thank you so much for your help!

— Robin Thomson, University of Minnesota

Thanks and updates from Expedition Arctic Botany


The first Lichen edition of Expedition Arctic Botany is complete! This version of our project challenged users with two new workflows, focusing on locality details and co-ordinate data. And you met the challenge! We look forward to preparing the data for our database and online portals, making them accessible to all, anywhere in the world!

We’ll send around the highlights of the first lichen subject set soon! For now, I can say that it continues to be a delight interacting with you via the talk boards. Together we have learned not only about lichen characteristics and chemical testing, but so much about the Canadian Arctic, the history of the Territories and creation of Nunavut. We have deciphered handwriting, discovered *so many* reversed co-ordinates, learned the indigenous names for localities identified (on specimen labels) by English names, and added new geological terms to our vocabulary. This project is more than just capturing data – its about learning and sharing knowledge of the Canadian Arctic.

The world is living in unusual times. Like you, we have taken great steps to ensure the health and safety of those around us. In our case, we closed our herbarium to all but essential workers, which meant that we could not finish imaging the remaining Arctic Lichen specimens in the collection. As workplaces begin to open again, we are now able, physically distant from our colleagues, to begin imaging again, and we look forward to making them available to you soon.

Kim imaging some lichen specimens for the next round of lichen projects.

In the meantime, we are running our previous Arctic Vascular subjects through the locality and co-ordinate workflows. Whereas the collector, collection number and collection date have already been transcribed, it’s now time to dig further and capture the locality and co-ordinate data. Those new workflows will go live August 11th. We hope you will join us then.

Thank you again. Best wishes stay safe.

The Expedition Arctic Botany team

Chers amis,

La première édition lichen de l’expédition de botanique dans l’Arctique est terminée ! Cette version de notre projet a mis les utilisateurs au défi avec deux nouveaux flux de travail, axés sur les détails locaux et les coordonnées. Et vous avez relevé le défi ! Nous avons hâte de préparer les données pour notre base de données et nos portails en ligne, afin de les rendre accessibles à tous, partout dans le monde !

Nous vous enverrons bientôt les faits saillants de la première série de spécimens de lichens ! Pour l’instant, je peux dire que c’est toujours un plaisir que d’interagir avec vous via les forums. Ensemble, nous avons appris non seulement sur les caractéristiques du lichen et les essais chimiques, mais aussi sur l’Arctique canadien, l’histoire des Territoires et la création du Nunavut. Nous avons déchiffré l’écriture, découvert *tant de* coordonnées inversées, appris les noms indigènes des localités identifiées (sur les étiquettes de spécimens) par des noms anglais, et ajouté de nouveaux termes géologiques à notre vocabulaire. Ce projet va au-delà de la simple saisie de données — il porte sur l’apprentissage et le partage des connaissances sur l’Arctique canadien.

Le monde vit à une époque inhabituelle. Comme vous, nous avons pris de grandes mesures pour assurer la santé et la sécurité des gens autour de nous. Dans notre cas, nous avons fermé notre herbier à tous les travailleurs sauf essentiels, ce qui signifie que nous ne pouvions pas finir de numériser les spécimens de lichens arctiques restants dans la collection. Alors que les lieux de travail recommencent à s’ouvrir, nous sommes maintenant en mesure, physiquement loin de nos collègues, de recommencer à numériser des images, et nous avons hâte de les mettre à votre disposition bientôt.

Kim imagerie d’un spécimen de lichen pour la prochaine série de projets de lichen

Entre-temps, nous traitons nos spécimens vasculaires arctiques précédents à travers les flux de travail de localisation et de coordination. Alors que l’on a déjà transcrit l’herborisateur, le numéro et la date de collecte, il est temps de pousser plus loin la recherche et de saisir les données de localisation et de coordonnées. Ces nouveaux flux de travail seront mis en service le 11 août. Nous espérons que vous vous joindrez alors à nous.

Merci encore. Meilleurs vœux et soyez prudents.

L’équipe de l’expédition de botanique dans l’Arctique

2 million

This week Notes from Nature reached another big milestone. We reached over 2 million classifications on our current platform.

The first million took 994 days and we reached 2 million 493 days later! Thanks to all of you that is twice as fast.

We have reached this milestone before as we have upgraded our platform a few times over the years. This puts our current total well over 3 million for the life of Notes from Nature.

While we look forward to our next big milestone it’s important to remember that every classification counts and whether you have classified a few dozen or a few hundred thousand, we sincerely appreciate your efforts!

— The Notes from Nature Team

New Lichen themed badges – we’re lichen ‘em!

Citizen scientists now have a new series of badges to earn – Lichen badges! With the launch of lichen subjects on Notes From Nature – Expedition Arctic Botany, you can complete transcriptions of lichen collection labels, and earn some nifty badges for your efforts. When you do, you’ll be adding original designs by artist and Canadian Museum of Nature botanist, Cassandra Robillard, to your field notebook.

These genus-inspired badges are earned when you transcribe 10, 50, 100, 250 and 500 subjects.

10 transcriptions will earn you the beautiful Firedot Lichen badge.

Inspired by the genus Caloplaca, the Firedot Lichen badges depicts a crustose type lichen. Firedot Lichens are named for their often-orange colour and darker, saucer-shaped structure or apothecia (fruiting bodies).

“Once you’ve earned your Firedot Lichen badge, the firedot lichen might put a fire in your belly to keep transcribing lichens” – Paul Sokoloff

50, 100 and 250 transcriptions will earn you the Peg Lichen badges.

These badges, inspired by the genus Cladonia, depict fruticose type lichens which form simple stalks or bushes. The genus Cladonia includes the Pixie Cup, Peg (depicted here), and Reindeer Lichens. Peg lichens, like the one depicted here, include the species Cladonia cristatella – sometimes called “British Soldiers” for its bright red caps. Reindeer Lichens are a primary food source for Reindeer and Caribou during winter. Recently Cladonia stellaris was voted as Canada’s proposed national lichen!

Finally, after 500 subjects transcribed, you can earn the Strap Lichen badge.

This badge, inspired by the genus Ramalina, depicts another fruticose lichen with flattened branches, hence the name “Strap Lichen”. Growing on branches, tree trunks or rocks in damp environments, fruticose lichens like Strap Lichen are often indicators for good air quality.

We hope you enjoy these new badges and earn them all! Looking forward to working with you on Expedition Arctic Botany!

Happy 7th Anniversary to Notes from Nature

Today we celebrate the 7th anniversary of Notes from Nature. Please help us celebrate 7 years of Notes from Nature by doing a few transcriptions today!

On this day we want to thank the entire Notes from Nature community for all the support. It wouldn’t be possible without our amazing volunteers, science partners, data providers and of course the Zooniverse team for keeping the project going day after day and year after year.

We also appreciate a very timely mention of Notes from Nature today in the Smithsonian Magazine. The article contains some wonderful images and mentions of Notes from Nature.

— The Notes from Nature Team

Masons, cutters, and carders – oh my!

The leaf-cutter bee expeditions are almost completed. Here is a quick overview.

Megachilidae is a family of bees with more than 600 species in the United States and over 4000 species worldwide. Their common names come from the materials they use to build nests. Leaf-cutter bees cut disks from leaves and petals (and sadly, plastic too) to line the walls of their nurseries. Mason bees use mud to build their nests. And carder bees use plant fibers or animal hairs (carding is the process of combing cotton or wool fibers into parallel strands to be woven together). Still others collect plant resins and are called resin bees. One thing they all have in common is that they provision their larvae with pollen and nectar. All this flower visiting means lots of pollen getting spread from one plant to another.

Carder bees, Anthidium manicatum, mating on lamb’s ear flower. Photo: Joyce Gross

Most bees, including megachilids, are solitary, meaning they do not live in colonies with a caste structure like honey bees and bumble bees. Because honey bees maintain large colonies of overlapping generations, and seem okay living in wooden boxes that are moved from farm to farm, they became the dominant species for commercial pollination. Similarly, greenhouse tomatoes are often pollinated by bumble bee colonies, which will fly at cooler temperatures. But it is much more difficult to wrangle large numbers of solitary bees for commercial pollination. Enter the alfalfa leafcutter bee, Megachile rotundata. These bees will use stacks of hollow reeds or straws to make their nests, and so can be collected, stored, and deployed in alfalfa fields to increase yield.

Because of their importance as pollinators in natural, agricultural, and urban landscapes, the CalBug team chose megachilid bees as important ecological indicators and set about photographing their labels from our collections. It was over three years ago that we launched the first leaf-cutter bee expedition. Now, after nearly 50,000 specimens we are in the final stretch with “CalBug leaf-cutter bees 18”. So, let us look at some stats.

Number of bee specimens collected from 1892 to 2015

The first thing I noticed is that the Essig Museum has megachilid bees collected every year since 1892, (except for 1893, 1894, 1898, 1899, and 1903). The peak in the late 1930’s marks the beginning of the California Insect Survey, which led to the formalization of the Essig Museum at UC Berkeley. The 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s, following World War II, are often considered the “heydays” of Entomology when researchers sought out all species, not just the groups they studied, and collections across the country grew exponentially. Since then researchers have become much more focused in their field efforts. A current peak, beginning around 2010 with renewed interest in native pollinators, is not on this chart because these specimens were databased in-house and not part of the Notes from Nature expedition.

Countries from which bees were collected. Darker shades indicate greater number of specimens

Although the Essig Museum has a major focus on California arthropods, we documented megachilid bees from 53 countries and 45 US states. These specimens represent 493 species in 37 genera. The greatest number of specimens was in the genus Megachile (19,469), followed by Osmia (7208), Ashmeadiella (3781), Hoplitis (3526), Trachusa (3326), and Anthidium (3320).

States in the USA from which bees were collected. Darker shades indicate greater number of specimens.

For this last set of leaf-cutter bee specimens, we would love to know if we fill in some of gaps, like the eastern states not yet represented in the data, or specimens from the 1890’s. The next steps will be to tabulate the host plants these bees visit and look for any populations shifts such as seasonality due to climate change, or the contraction or expansion of particular species over the last 130 years. Thanks to all who have contributed to the monumental task of capturing data on some of our most important native bee species!

— Peter Oboyski, Essig Museum of Entomology 

Thank you / Merci

A thank you from the Canadian Museum of Nature

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