Digitization TCN: Collaborative Research: The Key to the Cabinets: Building and sustaining a research database for a global biodiversity hotspot

Project: Research project

Project Details


Digitization TCN: Collaborative Research: The Key to the Cabinets: Building and sustaining a research database for a global biodiversity hotspot Digitization of herbarium specimens has increasingly become a routine curatorial activity for many collections, but at large scales, downstream image processing to generate high quality datasets remains problematic. Mobilization of collections from many domains is challenging due to piecemeal recruitment and training. We propose that harvesting data from specimens can be facilitated by social networks as a means to accelerate behavioral change, foster innovation, and enhance the dissemination of best practices. The SouthEast Regional Network of Expertise and Collections (SERNEC) has developed a robust human infrastructure among 233 herbarium collections in the southeastern United States through professional societies and the support of a five-year NSF Research Coordination Network. We propose to utilize this network to improve protocols at every stage of specimen digitization, including the involvement of citizen scientists and collaborative outreach to students and the public. The ultimate goal of this proposed project is to develop a fully imaged and databased dataset of 3,398,756 specimens and a georeferenced dataset of one million specimens of Southeastern plant species represented in the 83 collections associated with this TCN. The southeastern United States is one of the most floristically diverse regions in North America and a global hotspot of plant diversity. Specimens in southeastern herbaria represent a valuable data source for research on the response of vegetation to climate change, human development, and rapid migrations of recently introduced species across the landscape. The only comprehensive assessment of global change for a US floristic province comprises herbarium-data based studies of California. The proposed Southeastern dataset will facilitate more large-scale research in this area, and we are focusing our initial georeferencing efforts on Southeastern endemics and their congeners, which are particularly vulnerable to environmental perturbation. Intellectual merit: The research-quality dataset generated by this proposed project is unique in taxonomic scope at this scale and will support research on the impacts of environmental change on the biodiversity of the Southeast. To produce this dataset, barriers to data mobilization previously identified by SERNEC will be addressed, and we will also develop workflows and tools to disambiguate taxonomic and georeferenced data. All resulting solutions and protocols will be shared with the collections community at large to assist in other large-scale digitization efforts. Besides our regional portal, specimen data will be accessible to researchers also via national database initiatives, such as iDigBio and GBIF. The extensive education and outreach expertise of SERNEC will be mobilized to develop appropriate tools for public access. Through partnerships with state Natural Heritage Programs, the project will identify potentially imperilled taxa and determine community best practices to control data access outside of the working group. Broader impacts: Research based on the projects database has the potential for significant impact on environmental planning, including federal-level strategies for habitat preservation, buffer and corridor acquisition, and environmentally sound development plans. The innovative applicatoin of citizen science methodologies to groups of various sizes and expertise will generated needed understanding to effectively spread this mechanism to other projects. Our use of the Symbiota framework as our data pipeline with provide transferable technologies in the form of modules to move data into the citizen science platform Notes from Nature and the georeferencing platform GEOLocate. The project will also inspire the next generation of scientists and concerned citizens using targeted approaches at the undergraduate and secondary-school level, and SERNEC will continue current efforts to expose underrepresented groups to careers and opportunities in the life sciences. Our student-intern model provides opportunities for professional development beyond routine herbarium work, including seminars and participation in annual TCN meetings activities aimed at nurturing community spirit and enthusiasm for the project. Our educational strategy also includes lesson plans targeting state-based standards of learning (SOLs) for grades 6-12; these resources will be disseminated to secondary school science teachers at education venues, such as the National Association of Biology Teachers. Project results will be promoted to the scientific community and K-12 educators through society meetings, workshops, symposia, and outreach publications, such as Bioscience. The complied educational products will be shared on the sernec.org website.
Effective start/end date8/15/147/31/18


  • National Science Foundation (NSF): $107,609.00


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