Documenting Marine Biodiversity through Digitization of Invertebrate Collections (DigIn)

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Documenting Marine Biodiversity through Digitization of Invertebrate Collections (DigIn)

DigIn TCN
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Project Summary

For two centuries, America has amassed an unparalleled collection of specimens from exploring the world's oceans. They were pulled up with nets, scooped up from seabeds with grabs, and hand-collected by divers, all contributing to a library of biodiversity that captures the state of life in the ocean - year after year, decade after decade. The broadest evolutionary scope of those collections is in the marine invertebrates, animals without backbones - sea stars, corals, worms, jellyfish, crabs, and thousands of other animals. That library of preserved marine invertebrates is our essential guide to the diversity of ocean life across the globe. And because they encapsulate data from the moment they were picked up, these institutional collections also act as a time machine, letting us use the past to understand how our present will become the future. But there is a problem - vast numbers of these specimens are essentially invisible outside of a tiny community of museum specialists. The only record of these specimens' existence is on labels enclosed in the jars with the preserved animals or in paper logbooks on a shelf. These specimens will remain nearly undiscoverable on museum shelves until their core descriptive information is made digitally available. Therefore, this project will create public digital records for over 7.5 million specimens from our nation's legacy of marine exploration, thereby making the immense investment in the specimens' acquisition available to 21st Century biodiversity and ecosystems research. Because these specimens provide a visible and tangible window into our oceans' enchanting biodiversity, this project will involve STEM educators and student educators in the digitization effort, so that they will be able to reflect their science experiences directly back to the classroom. The public will be involved virtually, by contributing transcription of specimen label data.

Digitization of alcohol-preserved marine specimens has never been carried out on this scale. A major challenge lies in the location of the data: written, typed, or printed on labels in the jars with the specimens. In many cases, that will require opening the jar, extracting the label, and either transcribing it directly or photographing it for later transcription - for hundreds of thousands of jars. The immediate participants in this program will digitize most or all of the marine invertebrate collections at nineteen institutions across the country, more than doubling the number of digital records for marine invertebrates in the U.S. All data will be publicly available through existing data portals, including iDigBio.org, using standardized data formats, thereby dramatically enhancing the accessibility of biodiversity data for comprehensive, systems-based analysis of ocean ecosystems.

Current Research

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Project Leadership

Project sponsor: Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History Foundation

Principal Investigator (PI): Regina Wetzer (PI), Trina Roberts, Elizabeth Ellwood (co-PIs)

Project Collaborators

Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History Foundation

Wetzer, Regina, (NSF Award #2001601)

Florida Atlantic University

Hanisak, M. Dennis, (NSF Award #2001209)

College of William & Mary Virginia Institute of Marine Science

Dreyer, Jennifer, (NSF Award #2001246)

Fish and Wildlife Research Institute

Larson, Paul G., (NSF Award #2001249)

American Museum Natural History

Rodriguez, Estefania, (NSF Award #2001256)

University of California-San Diego Scripps Inst of Oceanography

Rouse, Gregory W., (NSF Award #2001260)

University of Colorado at Boulder

Li, Jingchun, (NSF Award #2001269)

Bernice P Bishop Museum

Bolick, Holly, (NSF Award #2001286)

University of Alabama Tuscaloosa

Kocot, Kevin M., (NSF Award #2001303)

Auburn University

Halanych, Kenneth M., (NSF Award #2001316)

Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History

Geiger, Daniel L., (NSF Award #2001332)

University of Florida

Paulay, Gustav, (NSF Award #2001386)

California Academy of Sciences

Piotrowski, Christina, (NSF Award #2001428)

Friends of the North Carolina State Museum of Natural Sciences

McCuller, Megan I., (NSF Award #2001508)

Academy of Natural Sciences Philadelphia

Callomon, Paul, (NSF Award #2001531)

Harvard University

Hanken, James, (NSF Award #2001540)

University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Sciences

Traylor-Knowles, Nikki G., (NSF Award #2001892)

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