The 2015 meeting of the Entomological Collections Network took place in the twin cities of Minneapolis, MN, 14-15 November. This stimulating and well organized meeting preceded the Entomological Society of America 2015 meetings, and had 165 participants. Times and activities are changing in the entomological collections world. The vast majority of the presentations this year were discussing digitization efforts. Much effort has gone into the digitization of the Hopkins Notes and field notes at UMMZ; the digitization of historical collections, such as those of Darwin and Wallace; and retrieving and reviving collections databases from old databases on outdated computer systems, software platforms and media. Other new platforms (TaxonWorks) are in development to help with the acceleration of digitization efforts. The iDigBio sponsored session "Using Digitized Data in Research" highlighted the efforts to use the ever-increasing collections based data now available to help understand biodiversity and the continuously changing world. Two of the NSF-funded TCNs (Fossil Insect Collaborative and Tri-trophic Thematic Collection Network) highlighted several studies resulting from the efforts of the digitization entomology communities. iDigBio's Deborah Paul ended the sessions with a summary of the GBIF Task Force's preliminary results from the collections community survey on the status of digitization and available collections metadata in natural history collections around the globe.
Two presentations highlighted field sites and collecting and collaborative research opportunities in Costa Rica and Cuba. As with all collecting, following the research permit requirements and ensuring Access Benefit Sharing requirements are some of the largest challenges. The living collections session provided insight into the benefits of educational and research collections. Such resources are valuable for STEM and K-12 learning and genomic studies, but also require financial support and constant improvement to keep with the current needs of the communities they serve. The use of collections for modern molecular studies, and collecting specifically for molecular use, such as the Global Genome Initiative, increasingly add value to museum and research collections. However, Zoe Adam's presentation on the conservation and use of the more traditional collection tool of gum-chloral mounting media on slides generated some of the liveliest discussions.
Discussions also turned to educating the public as to the importance of natural history collections, which has been an issue since the early days of natural history collections, as highlighted by Max Barclay. His analogy of using pieces of art for historical biological research was an interesting (and humorous) one. Overcoming social barriers remains a hurdle for entomological collections and other natural history collections, especially in the current world of social media.
The prize-winning quote of the meeting came from Jorge Soberon:
GBIF [data] is very very useful, is abundant, although I will stress this, it is not for children, is XXX, is hard core...you don't deal with GBIF data unless you know how to...
highlighting a learning opportunity - and a challenge - for all of us to improve data quality and to educate users of digital collections data.
Recordings of all the presentations and the annual meeting can be found on iDigBio's ECN 2015 Wiki page, and you can follow the story of the ECN 2015 talks, as they happened, on entcoll2015 Twitter feed.
-- Shelley James, Deb Paul & Gil Nelson