Thematic Collections Networks


Each Thematic Collections Network (TCN) is a network of institutions with a strategy for digitizing information that addresses a particular research theme, such as impacts of climate change or biota of a region. Once digitized, data are easily accessed and available for other research and educational use. Three TCNs were funded in 2011 and four TCNs were funded in 2012; others will be funded in succeeding years. Advancing Digitization of Biodiversity Collections (ADBC) is a 10-year project. You may obtain more information via the TCN websites or by contacting the Principal Investigators.


InvertNet– An Integrative Platform for Research on Environmental Change, Species Discovery and Identification (2011 TCN)

Project Lead PI (Lead Principal Investigator): Christopher Dietrich, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Co-PIs: Gregory Zolnerowich, Kansas State University; Anthony Cognato, Michigan State University; Paul Tinerella, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities; Paul Johnson, South Dakota State University; Daniel Young, University of Wisconsin, Madison; Johannes Klompen, Ohio State University; Jennifer Zaspel, University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh; Andrew Short, University of Kansas; Jeffrey Holland, Purdue University; John Rawlins, Carnegie Museum of Natural History; Robert Sites, University of Missouri, Columbia; Gregory Courtney, Iowa State University; David Rider, North Dakota State University, Fargo

Summary: Arthropods (insects, spiders, crabs) are the most diverse and abundant group of macro-organisms in biological collections, but are underrepresented in databases accessible online or elsewhere. This project will centralize access to and synthesize information from 160 years of North American arthropod collections. It will use innovative technology, including optical 3D imaging and reconstruction, to support scientific inquiry on the effects of land use change on biodiversity, and basic research on species discovery and identification.The award will provide IT infrastructure for collection digitization, digitally-assisted curation, and collection management; availability of specimen-level data for scientific inquiry on human impacts on biodiversity; and greater use of and appreciation for scientific collections by non-scientists through access to specimen images and related data.



Plants, Herbivores and Parasitoids: A Model System for the Study of Tri-Trophic Associations (2011 TCN)

Project Lead PI (Lead Principal Investigator): Randall T. Schuh, American Museum of Natural History

Co-PIs: Richard Rabeler, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; Charles Bartlett, University of Delaware; Robert Naczi, New York Botanical Garden; Robert Magill, Missouri Botanical Garden; Christiane Weirauch, University of California, Riverside; Benjamin Normark, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Summary: All the nearly 20,000 plant species in North America are attacked by insect pests, including those in the group Hemiptera (known as the “true bugs”), which are in turn attacked by parasitoid insects in the Hymenoptera (sawflies, wasps, ants), widely used for biological control of agricultural pests. This project will unify some eight million records in 34 collections to answer how the distributions and phenologies of the plants, pests and parasitoids relate to each other, in a Tri-Trophic Databasing and imaging project – the TTD.Data from this approach will benefit basic scientific questions and practical applications in the agricultural sciences, conservation biology, ecosystem studies and climate change and biogeography research. Technological tools and methods will be introduced to graduate students, affiliated universities, and grant-sponsored students from other institutions through a short course. A data-mining and species-distribution modeling symposium at the University of California-Riverside will foster interactions between systematics and ecological researchers, and explore the TTD as a platform for instruction and inquiry.



North American Lichens and Bryophytes: Sensitive Indicators of Environmental Quality and Change (2011 TCN)

Project Lead PI (Lead Principal Investigator): Corinna Gries, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Co-PIs: Andrew Miller, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Edward Schilling, University of Tennessee Knoxville; Meredith Blackwell, Louisiana State University & Agricultural and Mechanical College; Donald Pfister, Harvard University; Francois Lutzoni, Duke University; Robert Lücking, Field Museum of Natural History; Bruce Allen, Missouri Botanical Garden; Timothy James, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; Larry St.Clair, Brigham Young University; Stefanie Ickert-Bond, University of Alaska, Fairbanks; William Buck, New York Botanical Garden; John Freudenstein, Ohio State University; Tatyana Livschultz, Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia; David Giblin, University of Washington; Alan Fryday, Michigan State University; Brent Mishler, University of California, Berkeley

Summary: Lichens and bryophytes (mosses and their relatives) are sensitive indicators of environmental change, and are dominant organisms in arctic-alpine and desert habitats, where the effects of climate change are well-documented.
This project will image about 2.3 million North American lichen and bryophyte specimens from more than 60 collections to address questions of how species distributions change after major environmental events, both in the past and projected into the future. Large-scale distribution mapping will help identify regions where such changes are likely, fostering programs designed to protect these organisms. Awardees plan to build and enhance a national volunteer community, and provide online seminars, extensive online training materials, and local workshops and field trips.

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Digitizing Fossils to Enable New Syntheses in Biogeography- Creating a PALEONICHES (2012 TCN)

Project Lead PI (Lead Principal Investigator): Bruce Lieberman, University of Kansas

Co-PIs: James Beach, University of Kansas; Una Farrell, University of Kansas; Alycia Stigall, Ohio University; Brenda Hunda, Cincinnati Museum Center; Kendall Hauer, Miami University; Jonathan Hendricks, San Jose State University; Roger Portell, Florida Museum of Natural History

Summary: Museum collections of fossils, along with their associated locality data, provide millions of records representing data on the temporal and geographic distribution of species in deep time. However, to reach their greatest scientific potential, these collections data need to be available on-line and in a format that facilitates quantitative biogeographic analyses. We will enter information about the age and precise location of fossil specimens from parts of several key paleontological collections into electronic databases. During this process improvements to computer programs for collections will be enhanced to allow paleontological specimens to be integrated with modern specimen data, thereby benefiting research on distribution of organisms over time. Our efforts will digitize nearly 450,000 specimens belonging to 900 species from several museums throughout the U.S. and will focus on three different time periods in the history of life: the Ordovician, Pennsylvanian, and Neogene. We will create on-line digital atlases illustrating and describing these fossils and providing maps showing where they can be found. We will also create an 'app' so these atlases can be used on handheld devices out in the field.

The museum collections and fossils provide large amounts of data useful for studying what causes species to migrate, go extinct, or evolve over long time periods. They are of great relevance for considering how global change has and will continue to affect life on this planet. Our study will make these data available on line and accessible to scientists, facilitating many scientific analyses. The on-line and portable device digital atlases will be useful for educating amateur paleontologists and K-12 students about fossils both in classrooms and in the field. We will also provide training to students and scholars. This award is made as part of the National Resource for Digitization of Biological Collections through the Advancing Digitization of Biodiversity Collections program and all data resulting from this award will be available through the national resource (


The Macrofungi Collection Consortium: Unlocking a Biodiversity Resource for Understanding Biotec Interactions, Nutrient Cycling and Human Affairs (2012 TCN)

Project Lead PI (Lead Principal Investigator): Barbara Thiers, New York Botanical Gardens

Co-PIs: Roy Halling, New York Botanical Gardens; Joseph Ammirati, University of Washington; Donald Pfister, Harvard University; Andrew Miller, Illinois Natural History Survey; Andrew Methven, Eastern Illinois University; Clark Ovrebo, University of Central Oklahoma; Robert Lücking, Field Museum of Natural History; Timothy James, University of Michigan; Thomas Burns, University of California, Berkeley; John Taylor, University of California, Berkeley; Brent Mishler, University of California, Berkeley; Marc Cubeta, North Carolina State University; Meredith Blackwell, Louisiana State University; Rytas Vilgalys, Duke University; Richard Baird, Mississippi State University; Peter White, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Summary: Mushrooms and related fungi (macrofungi) play a critical role in the lives of plants and animals, including humans, yet their diversity is underestimated. Understanding this diversity will be critical in analyzing impacts of habitat change, nutrient cycling in ecosystems, and distributions and diversity of host organisms. Scientists in the U.S. have been studying these fungi for the past 150 years, resulting in a legacy of approximately 1.4 million dried scientific specimens conserved in 35 institutions in 24 states. These institutions have now joined in an effort to digitize and share online all data associated with macrofungi specimens. The resulting resource will enable a national census of macrofungi, never before attempted, and will allow researchers to better understand the diversity of these organisms and the relationship between macrofungi and the organisms with which they form intimate relationships.

Organized into clubs across the country, citizen mycologists play an important role in documenting macrofungi diversity, and these enthusiastic individuals are the conduit between professional scientists and the general public for critical information about wild edible and poisonous fungi. Citizen mycologists will join the collections institutions in this project to help to create the on-line resource. The project will fund two workshops for high school teachers to promote classroom study of fungi. University students employed by the project will gain work experience in digitization and formal training about fungi. Students will share the knowledge they gain through oral and video presentations. This award is made as part of the National Resource for Digitization of Biological Collections through the Advancing Digitization of Biodiversity Collections program and all data resulting from this award will be available through the national resource (


Website: http:/


Mobilizing New England Vascular Plant Specimen Data to Track Environmental Change (2012 TCN)

Project Lead PI (Lead Principal Investigator): Patrick Sweeney, Yale University

Co-PIs: David S. Barrington, University of Vermont; Douglas Carter, Central Connecticut State University; Charles C. Davis, Harvard University; Michael Donoghue, Yale University; Erika J. Edwards, Brown University; David Foster, Harvard University & Harvard Forest; Kayri Havens, Chicago Botanic Gardens - Project Budburst; Leanne Hoyden, Berkshire Museum; Chad Jones, Connecticut College; David Lovejoy Westfield State College; Eric Morgan, Bartlett Arboretum; Christopher D. Neefus, University of New Hampshire; Thomas Philbrick, Western Connecticut State University; Kristen Porter-Utley, Keene State College; Richard B. Primack, Boston University; Sridhar Radhakrishnan, University of Oklahoma; Karen Searcy, University of Massachusetts, Amherst; Binil Starly, University of Oklahoma; Jake Weltzen, National Phenology Network;

Summary: Herbarium specimens provide a source of historical information useful to the study of global environmental change. The goal of this project is to provide data to support studies of the nature and consequences of environmental change in the New England region over the last three centuries. This project will digitally capture specimen data and images from about 1.3 million vascular plant specimens from herbaria across New England, enhancing the data with georeferencing, habitat, and phonological information. The digitization process will integrate with existing community efforts and will develop novel high-throughput digitization technologies to increase efficiency and decrease costs. All resulting data and images will be freely available on-line.

The data from this project will be of immediate use to scientists who study climate and land-use change, and will provide a better understanding of how global changes will impact the distribution of native and introduced plant species. This project will benefit research in taxonomy, ecology, morphology, biogeography, and evolutionary history by making available data on an entire regional flora in an electronic format. The methodologies developed will provide a model for other regions around the nation. In addition the project will utilize citizen scientists, school groups, and students providing training, research, and educational opportunities.  This award is made as part of the National Resource for Digitization of Biological Collections through the Advancing Digitization of Biodiversity Collections program and all data resulting from this award will be available through the national resource (




Southwest Collections of Arthropods Network (SCAN): A Model for Collections Digitization to Promote Taxonomic and Ecological Research (2012 TCN)

Project Lead PI (Lead Principal Investigator): Neil S. Cobb, Northern Arizona University

Co-PIs: Kelly B. Miller, University of New Mexico; Paul Heinrich, Northern Arizona University; Wendy Moore Brusca, University of Arizona; Deane Bowers, University of Colorado at Boulder; Boris C. Kondratieff, Colorado State University; James C. Cokendolpher, Texas Tech University; John D. Oswald, Texas A&M; Nico M. Franz, Arizona State University; James Hanken, Harvard University; Quentin Wheeler, Arizona State University; Aaron Smith, Arizona State University; Frank Krell, Denver Museum of Nature and Science; Paula Cushing, Denver Museum of Nature and Science; Charles S. Bundy, New Mexico State University

Summary: The Southwest Collections of Arthropods Network (SCAN) brings together 10 diverse arthropod collections at universities and museums throughout the Southwest to create a virtual network of ground dwelling arthropods which are notably responsive to temporal and spatial environmental changes. These 10 collections document much of the Southwest's biodiversity, but currently the data associated with millions of arthropod specimens are not easily accessible. To overcome this, SCAN will develop methods for integrating existing databases, catalogue-image specimens, develop new electronic identification techniques, and produce a virtual library of ground-dwelling arthropods (beetles, grasshoppers, spiders, ants). In addition the project will work with the existing project Filtered Push to increase the capacity of experts to provide remote identifications and annotations of data that can be sent throughout the network.

The comprehensive SCAN online library and expert information will be available to the public as well as professionals in taxonomy, ecology, and climate change science. Smaller institutions will be provided increased access to large data sets for promoting research. The SCAN datasets will support a number of ongoing projects examining the effects of environmental and land-use change on individual arthropod species. By increasing access to this information, SCAN will stimulate new research and increased awareness in biodiversity conservation throughout the region. Over 50 undergraduates also will be trained in cyberinfrastructure, systematics, and ecology. This award is made as part of the National Resource for Digitization of Biological Collections through the Advancing Digitization of Biodiversity Collections program and all data resulting from this award will be available through the national resource,