Enhancing Access to Taxonomic and Biogeographical Data to Stem the Tide of Extinction of the Highly Imperiled Pacific Island Land Snails

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Enhancing Access to Taxonomic and Biogeographical Data to Stem the Tide of Extinction of the Highly Imperiled Pacific Island Land Snails

PILSBRY TCN
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Project Summary

Biodiversity is declining globally and any effective actions to halt or slow extinctions requires precise knowledge of species identities and distributions. Natural history collections are critical to fully understanding historical and contemporary biodiversity patterns, yet most of the museum specimens and their associated data remain inaccessible without directly visiting the museum collection, and even then, only to a select few. Digitizing these data and making it more broadly available electronically will facilitate biodiversity conservation efforts. Land snails, with approximately 25,000 species globally, are a major component of terrestrial habitats and provide services crucial for maintaining intact and fully functional ecosystems. Unfortunately, land snails have the highest number of documented extinctions of any major animal group, with the greatest losses among Pacific islands. Conservation assessments and identification of the remaining fauna are hampered because a large portion of this fauna has not been comprehensively studied for more than 100 years. Increased understanding of threatened biodiversity should be a national priority, particularly given the current biodiversity crisis. One goal of this project is to develop a comprehensive data resource (the Pacific Island Land Snail Biodiversity Repository; PILSBRY) to provide information needed to identify and assess the distributions and conservation status of Pacific island land snails. Researchers from five of the largest natural history collections in the nation will be joining forces to build an educational program to train and engage the science community, students, and citizen scientists to aid them in the digitization, mobilization, and enhancement of 3.6 million Pacific island land snail specimen records. This project will increase capacity of experts to support tropical island biodiversity research and conservation and accelerate species discovery.

Participants of this project, including the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, Academy of Natural Sciences at Drexel, Museum of Zoology at the University of Michigan, Harvard Museum of Natural History, Florida Museum of Natural History, and the Field Museum, will digitize and mobilize data for 3.6 million specimens of Pacific island land snails held in these collections. These data, enhanced through georeferencing and imaging of primary types, will be made available to the public and science community via a centralized online database and integrated into multiple public data repositories, including iDigBio (idigbio.org), which is supported by the NSF's ADBC program. High school and undergraduate students from underrepresented groups in STEM will receive training in data management, bioinformatics, taxonomy and museum curation and will contribute to formal (e.g. conference presentations and publications) and informal (e.g. exhibits, social media and blogs) educational activities to improve their science communication skills and connect research to the science community and public. Additionally, citizen scientists will be able to assist in enhancing specimen records by transcribing data from scanned ledgers, field notes, and other associated data through online portals. Eventually additional web-based tools and smart phone applications can be developed for conservation managers, researchers, citizen scientists and the public to access Pacific Island land snail specimen records to further research and conservation management of this highly endangered fauna.

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Project sponsor: Bernice P Bishop Museum (NSF Grant #190232)

Principal Investigator (PI): Norine Yeung (PI) Kenneth Hayes (co-PI)

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