Every six years, botanists gather to discuss the latest discoveries and goals for plant science research at the International Botanical Congress, this year hosted by Shenzhen, China, from 23-29 July 2017. This phenomenal event, with more than 7,000 delegates, was held at the Shenzhen Convention & Exhibition Center. This was the 19th congress, and iDigBio was there, represented by Pam Soltis, Gil Nelson, Elizabeth (Libby) Ellwood, and Shelley James, and the organizing committee graciously allowed us to organize two symposia, "Green Digitization: online botanical collections data answering real-world questions", chaired by Shelley James and Gil Nelson, and "Crowdsourcing herbarium digitization: partnerships, platforms, and the Worldwide Engagement for Digitizing Biocollections (WeDigBio) Event" , chaired by Libby Ellwood and Austin Mast. Despite the many symposia competing for an audience, both symposia were well attended, and the speakers gave thoughtful and interesting presentations to stimulate community discussion.
At the "Green Digitization" symposium, David Cantrill (Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria) presented interesting insights about the research use of collections data delivered through The Australasian Virtual Herbarium portal. Jenn Yost (California Polytechnic State University) gave an informative presentation on the use of the phenological data now available through the digitization activities of herbarium collections around the world, and the ongoing efforts to increase the availability fo such data for research. From the China perspective, Zheping Zu (Chinese Academy of Sciences) provided the audience with an overview of the digitization efforts ongoing within herbaria of the region. While Dori Contreras (University of California) was not able to travel to China, Gil Nelson gave an overview of her workflow - from field to digital database to collection - as part of her PhD research project. To summarize, Shelley James (National Herbarium of New South Wales) provided an overview of the uses of digital collections data - those of herbaria and other natural history collections - and how they are being used to understand biodiversity and assist with improving datasets available for research. All presentations are now being developed as publications for a special issue of the journal Applications in Plant Sciences.
The WeDigBio Symposium, despite being on the last day at 8am (!), attracted a large audience, and garnered much discussion. Each speaker represented a platform or project involved in WeDigBio and presented a related research topic. Simon Chagnoux (Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle) presented on the French transcription platform, Les Herbonautes, what they learned over four years in action, and the impressive expansions they've made into new languages and projects. Julie Allen (University of Florida) provided a captive audience with information on the latest Notes from Nature developments, from both the transcriber and research partner perspective. Matt von Konrat (The Field Museum) described the remarkable and creative ways they have engaged citizen scientists and how it has resulted in a large community of active participants. Libby Ellwood (iDigBio) presented two talks. The first was an overview of WeDigBio and the new and exciting plans for this October's event. The second was Austin Mast's talk on Biospex (biospex.org) and the work he and the Biospex team have done to help research teams onboard and manage digitization projects.
iDigBio research students (past and present), Blaine Marchant, Richard Hodel and Greg Stull also attended and gave presentations. Florida Museum post-doc Julie Allen presented results on phylogenetic diversity of Florida plants based on ecological niche models developed using herbarium records.
Most notably, Pam Soltis presented a big picture overview of "Linking heterogeneous data in botanical research" in her plenary talk, with a big shout out to the efforts of the iDigBio community.
Our colleagues from GBIF also hosted a stimulating and interesting symposium on data mobilization and management, along with symposia on e-Floras and the World Flora online projects, all relevant to the iDigBio collections and research community.
The Shenzhen Declaration on Plant Sciences, launched at the meeting, provides seven priorities for strategic action in uniting plant sciences and society to build a green, sustainable Earth. It is critical to note that the ongoing digitization of botanical collections and sharing of data by the community contribute to each of the seven priorities.
The Organizing Committee did an amazing job in hosting this meeting, with advertising all over the city, ensuring that all of us were safe, were engaged with local culture, and had an extremely productive meeting. Thank you also to the more than 1,500 volunteers who helped during the week. We look forward to IBC 2023 in Brazil!
-- Contributed by Shelley A. James, Elizabeth Ellwood, Pam Soltis, & Gil Nelson