CU Boulder WeDigBio: Alaskan Exploration! Join us for our First Adventure!

The University of Colorado Herbarium is a section of CU Boulder’s Natural History Museum. Here, over 500,000 preserved plant specimens- including wildflowers, ferns, grasses, lichens, mosses and more are held! This herbarium emphasizes the flora of the southern Rocky Mountains and contains one of the largest collections of Colorado plants in the world!

This year, the CU Herbarium is launching our first WeDigBio expedition. WeDigBio is a global data campaign that gives community members to take part in the creation of digital data about biodiversity specimens. During this event, you will have the opportunity to aid our Herbarium in the transcription of labels on specimens in our collection.

For this expedition, CU Boulder’s Herbarium will be focusing on the extraordinary and rich plant life of Alaska. With nearly one third of land covered in forests, its unique thaw lakes, and its vast areas of frozen grounds, Alaska makes for a beautiful expedition! Of course, you will complete this expedition of specimen digitization right from the comfort of your own home! 

Click here to participate!

–The CU Herbarium Team

Log historical marine biodiversity with Invertebrate Time Machine

We’re excited to launch a new Notes from Nature Project, Invertebrate Time Machine! Our mission: to unearth and mobilize data from historically important marine invertebrate museum specimens which are not yet available to researchers for addressing pressing scientific questions. The California Academy of Sciences has tens of thousands of old 3×5 index card copies of specimen jar labels. Their data were never entered in an online database, and remain largely invisible to the greater scientific community. Once captured, the potential of this data to inform science and marine conservation will be unlocked, permitting scientists to “travel” back in time by viewing historical occurrence records for marine animals including where, when and how they were collected, enabling new discoveries and important comparisons with current marine populations. Open access to this type of data has become increasingly important as marine habitats and ocean conditions change through time. Understanding the natural state of habitats towards their conservation requires documenting their history.

Think you’re not familiar with marine invertebrate animals? Well you probably are! These sponges, worms, corals, snails, crabs, starfish (and many more) lack backbones…invertebrates have a huge diversity of forms, from giant squid to tiny “sea pea” urchins. There are 35 major groups (phyla) of these familiar creatures, whereas all vertebrate animals make up part of one phylum. Marine invertebrates are more poorly known than fish and other marine vertebrates, yet they comprise about 97% of all marine animals so studying them is crucial to understanding marine biodiversity. If you’re already familiar with invertebrates, you might also know that scientists believe only 10% of marine species are known to science so far. Museum collections help us to document and study animal diversity to better inform conservation of both species and marine habitats.

Our old card cataloging system is no longer in use, and data for most of these cards were never captured digitally. We’ve made scans of these cards available for transcription using the Invertebrate Time Machine and we’re excited to embark on the first Notes from Nature expeditions to capture global data for diverse marine invertebrate phyla. We need your help entering card data into the correct fields, where they will then be searchable and visible online by scientists and members of the public around the world. Will you help marine scientists travel back in time by joining our project? We look forward to traveling with you!

— Christina Piotrowski, Collections Manager of Invertebrate Zoology, California Academy of Sciences

Two public talks for WeDigBio

As part of WeDigBio there will be a number of virtual events. We’ll be announcing these in the coming days, so please keep an eye out for more opportunities.

Friday, October 16, 11:00 am – 12:00 pm (central time)

“Research Questions to Answer with Specimen Data.” Learn how the transcribed data from Notes from Nature is used in specific examples of research questions that can be asked and answered using images and label data from specimens.

Travis Marsico, Arkansas State University professor and associate chair, STAR herbarium curator

Register in advance for this meeting:

Sunday, October 18, 1:00 – 2:00 pm (central time)

“Using digitized specimen data for on the ground conservation in Benton and Washington Counties.”

Theo will talk about the three-year inventory project for Benton and Washington Counties in Northwest Arkansas. This project uses historic specimen data and present-day surveys to inform conservation decisions in the rapidly changing area.

Theo Witsell, Arkansas National Heritage Commission Ecologist and Chief of Research, ANHC herbarium curator

Register in advance for this meeting:

WeDigBio next week

We are looking forward to WeDigBio event next week. The event runs October 15th – 18th. It is a global data campaign and a virtual science festival.

We’ll have lots of great content on Notes from Nature. We expect to see some old friends and hopefully some new ones too. We’ll have a new Project launching and hopefully a few fun surprises along the way.

Please join us for as much or as little as you are able. As always, we loved to hear from you on out Talk forum.

Looking forward to it,

— The Notes from Nature Team

Transcription Counts: A summary of recent efforts on the Plants of Arkansas Project

The Plants of Arkansas: skeletal records for our southernmost herbarium four-part expedition started on July 16, 2019 and completed August 30, 2020. Over 13.5 months, the Notes from Nature community transcribed 27,597 skeletal records from the University of Arkansas – Monticello herbarium (UAM). These skeletal records included data about the higher geography (country, state, county), scientific name, collector name(s), collector number, and collection date. Here is a summary of what we learned about the herbarium specimen holdings at UAM.

Higher Geography

Specimens at UAM were collected from 19 different countries, but the majority of specimens (99.5%) were collected from the United States. The second highest specimen count per country in the collection was Mexico with 50 specimens. Many countries have a single specimen collected, including the Bahamas, China, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Ireland, Micronesia, Morocco, Switzerland, and Ukraine.

Within the United States, the UAM collection includes specimens from all 50 states plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Over 63% of the specimens from the United States were collected in Arkansas, and the second highest specimen count per US state in the collection was Louisiana with 7.8%.

Specimens were collected from all 75 Arkansas counties. Attached is a map of Arkansas counties with the name of each county and number of specimens transcribed by county for the UAM collection. County shading indicates how many specimens were collected by county, with counties in lighter grays having fewer specimens collected and counties in darker grays having more specimens collected.


The UAM collection has 4860 species (5472 total taxa when including subspecies and varieties) across 1378 genera and 214 families. Only four families have >1000 specimens; the families with the most specimens include Asteraceae (composites, the sunflower family, 11.6%), Poaceae (grasses, 6.9%), Fabaceae (the bean family, 6.4%), and Cyperaceae (sedges, 4%). There are 57 families with over 100 specimens each, which can be seen in this graph organized by decreasing number of specimens by family from left to right:

Collection Timeline

The UAM herbarium was founded by Dr. Eric Sundell in 1980. The oldest specimen in the UAM collection was collected in 1895 and the most recent in 2011. Most specimens were collected while Dr. Sundell was the curator in the 1980s and 1990s:

That’s the summary I have for now! We’ll continue to learn more about this collection as we transcribe the locality, habitat, and other herbarium database fields directly in SERNEC. Next week, we’ll hear from the current UAM curator, Dr. Richard Abbott, about his reaction to the UAM collection summary, how he will use the collection in teaching, and what he wants his students to learn with this museum-quality resource.

Diana Soteropoulos, Botanist / Arkansas Herbarium Digitization Coordinator

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

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