InvertEBase: Reaching Back to See the Future: Species-rich Invertebrate Faunas Document Causes and Consequences of Biodiversity Shifts

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Digitization TCN: InvertEBase: Reaching Back to See the Future: Species-rich Invertebrate Faunas Document Causes and Consequences of Biodiversity Shifts

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Project Summary

The rapid biodiversity change in North America has significant effects on essential ecosystem services, from impact on soil health and nutrient cycling, to agriculture, forestry and water quality. Exploding populations of invasive species threaten fresh water and terrestrial habitats and potentially impact the natural resources of the nation. Easy access to robust, expertly vetted baseline data for species occurrences, abundances, and distribution ranges, and monitoring how these parameters have changed through time, will facilitate the protection of the nation's natural resources, and vastly improve the capacity for effective restoration, land management planning, and conservation management. Numerous undergraduate students will receive training in digitization technologies and a modular exhibit will be developed to engage public interest in biodiversity changes.

Effective monitoring requires easy electronic access to historical specimen baseline information for temporal and regional species diversity comparisons that can facilitate informed land management decisions. Vast amounts of specimen data are housed within the nation's natural history collections, but most of these data are not readily accessible from digital resources. Size and complexity of scientific specimen collections require major technological advances in capturing specimen data. The goal of this four-year collaborative project is the rapid digitization of >2 million specimens and their locality data from ten arthropod and mollusk collections housed at six major US museums in six states (Il, OH, AL,MI, DE, PA). This project will significantly automate specimen data capture by utilizing optical character and voice-recognition technologies. The digitized data from this project will be immediately deployed for habitat-based distribution modeling and analyses.This award is made as part of the National Resource for Digitization of Biological Collections through the Advancing Digitization of Biological Collections program and all data resulting from this award will be available through the national resource (

Current Research

Proposed research:

  • Study of temporally and spatially correlated changes in species distribution patterns of eastern North American terrestrial and freshwater mollusks and arthropods (e.g., range changes of ecologically interconnected species at landscape scales, along latitudinal gradients, and particular points on the earth’s surface).
  • Development of historical and present day niche-based distribution models using predictive tools.
  • Assessment of impact of climate change on invertebrate diversity and distribution in the eastern United States.
  • Assessment of protected areas for the conservation of invertebrate diversity.
  • Workflow development for invertebrate collections in differing forms of preservation.

Project Websites & Social Media

InvertEBase Portal

Citizen Science & Outreach Projects

Project Leadership

Project Sponsor: Field Museum of Natural History (NSF Award 1402667)

Principal Investigator (PI): Petra Sierwald

Collaborating Award PIs:

Alex Kittle, Delaware Museum of Natural History
Rüdiger Bieler, Field Museum of Natural History
Jason Bond, Auburn University (NSF Award 1401176)
Andrew Deans, Pennsylvania State Univ - University Park (NSF Award 1400993)
James Hanken, Harvard University (NSF Award 1401450)
Taehwan Lee, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Paul Morris, Harvard University
Diarmaid O'Foighil, University of Michigan - Ann Arbor (NSF Award 1404964)
Elizabeth Shea, Delaware Museum of Natural History (NSF Award 1402697)
Gavin Svenson, Cleveland Museum of Natural History (NSF Award 1402785)

Project Collaborators

Map of Collaborating Institutions

Auburn University
Cleveland Museum of Natural History
Delaware Museum of Natural History, Inc.
Field Museum of Natural History
Harvard University (no data)
Pennsylvania State University, Frost Entomological Museum, University Park
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Unfunded collaborators

California Academy of Sciences
Florida Museum of Natural History
North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
University of Alaska, Museum of the North
University of Oklahoma, Sam Noble Museum
Yale University, Peabody Museum

Protocols & Workflows


Shea, EK, P Sierwald, R Bieler, and G Rosenberg."Priorities and opportunities for digitizing mollusk collections." American Malacological Bulletin, 36(2),2018, pp. 171-177. doi:
Sierwald, P, R Bieler,EK Shea, and G Rosenberg. "Mobilizing mollusks: Status update on mollusk collections in the USA and Canada." American Malacological Bulletin, 36(2), 2018, pp.177-215. doi://
Veiga AK, AM Saraiva, AD Chapman, PJ Morris, C Gendreau, D Schigel and TJ Robertson. "A conceptual framework for quality assessment and management of biodiversity data," PLoS ONE, v.12, 2017, p. e0178731. doi:

Professional Presentations

iDigBio Summit V, 2015

Other project documentation


Digitization PEN: Mollusca and Arthropoda Biodiversity in the Colorado Plateau Region

The insect collection at the Museum of Northern Arizona (MNA) spans nearly 100 years, focusing on the iconic Grand Canyon ecoregion and surrounding landscapes. Many specimens were collected at springs - critical ecosystems that support unusually high levels of biodiversity and unique species compared with the surrounding landscape. Through this award 120,000 well-documented insect specimen records and 1,000 high-resolution images will be digitized and contributed to the InvertEBase Thematic Collection Network (TCN). MNA staff will conduct three workshops on specimen identification and imaging, and will train and mentor students, including those from under-represented groups, to learn about museum curation, imaging, data management, and biodiversity research. The MNA will also present an interactive exhibit on the biodiversity of invertebrates on the Colorado Plateau and Grand Canyon. Designed to appeal to all age groups, the exhibit will consist of photographs and information about the region's most compelling species, with taxonomy, distribution, evolutionary history, ecological roles, and conservation status.

The data digitized through this project will fill critical gaps on species geographic ranges and contribute taxa currently not included in InvertEBase, with a representation of Odonata, Mantodea, Blattodea, Hymenoptera, Coleoptera, and non-insect terrestrial Arthropoda (Myriapoda, Arachnida and Crustacea). Specimens include records of rare, endangered, and undescribed species. MNAInverts, an online relational database, will serve as a platform to facilitate identification and georeferencing of specimens, and to streamline quality control procedures. Georeferencing of collection localities will increase their value for range mapping and biogeographical studies. The resource will include annotated, stacked, high resolution images of exemplar specimens from the region. To facilitate identification, important morphological character states essential for diagnosis at the species level will be noted. The project will advance public and scientific understanding of the complexity and importance of aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates to the ecological integrity of the Southwest. The MNA's contribution of occurrence data and images will augment the representation and distribution of Mollusca and Arthropoda in the InvertEBase TCN and will be shared with iDigBio (

Project Sponsor: Museum of Northern Arizona (NSF Award 1701842)

Principal Investigators: Lawrence Stevens (PI), Gary Alpert (Co-PI)

Digitization PEN: Augmenting the Temporal and Geographic Range of InvertEBase through Additional Collaboration of the Chicago Academy of Sciences

The Chicago Academy of Sciences/Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum (CAS/PNNM) is funded to join the existing Thematic Collections Network (TCN) project "InvertEBase: Reaching back to see the future: Species-rich invertebrate faunas document causes and consequences of biodiversity shifts," which aims to create an easily accessible scientific resource that will inform novel research on changing species occurrences, abundances, and range distribution of invertebrates, specifically mollusks and arthropods. Data for 104,850 specimens will contribute to support research that provide a more comprehensive understanding of invertebrate biodiversity, building a baseline for improved policies and practices regarding land management, restoration, and conservation. Increased accessibility to collections data stemming from this project will also benefit K-12 students and teachers in Chicago through the development of a curriculum component that aligns with Next Generation Science Standards, introducing students to the role of local mollusk species as environmental indicators. The Academy will also collaborate with the Field Museum of Natural History to develop digital and print field guides to common local mollusks. These guides will be widely distributed and will be resource aids for citizen science endeavors.

The Chicago Academy of Sciences was founded in 1857 and quickly established itself as an early leader in collecting and researching regional flora and fauna. This legacy translates into valuable historic species occurrence data for the Midwestern/Western Great Lakes region, particularly within the state of Illinois. This project proposes to digitize and serve data for specimens of invertebrates representative of that geographic region. The efforts of the InvertEBase TCN will aggregate more than 3.9 million digitized specimen records from across the eastern United States. The partnership proposed by CAS/PNNM will contribute an estimated 104,850 records, filling geographic and temporal gaps in the TCN's data. CAS/PNNM will also exploit and improve existing workflows in order to improve efficiencies and cost effectiveness of the digitization process. The project plans to impact K-12 students and teachers in Chicago through the development curricula that align with Next Generation Science Standards. 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 project will be available through iDigBio.

Project Sponsor: Chicago Academy of Sciences (NSF Award 1601700)

Principal Investigators: Dawn Roberts (PI), Erica Krimmel (Co-PI)


Twitter: @NatureMuseum

PR contact for CAS/PNNM: Marc Miller (Vice President, Chief Development and Marketing Officer)

Invertebrates from the Rocky Mountains and Great Plains: University of Colorado Museum of Natural History expands taxonomic and geographic coverage of InvertEBase

The Great Plains and Rocky Mountains ecosystems in Western North America support unique and understudied invertebrate biodiversity. These delicate ecosystems are being impacted by unprecedented human population increases in the region, resulting in changes to land use such as increased infrastructure and recreational activities. These ecosystems are also in peril from the warming and drying trend in Western North America, which is causing a rise in wild fire risk. To mitigate the negative impacts of these changes, awareness of invertebrate species distributions and biodiversity is needed to help make informed land management and conservation policies. The University of Colorado Museum of Natural History (UCM) Invertebrate Zoology collection documents 120 years of Colorado Rocky Mountains and Great Plains changing ecosystem. This project will allow researchers, educators and the public to freely access specimen data from this collection, through digitization and upload of the collection?s data to web based portals including InvertEBase and iDigBio. These specimen data will include taxonomic and geographic coverage of North American non-insect invertebrate species, with an emphasis on snails, crayfish, sponges, leeches and earthworms. Undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Colorado will be trained in data management, museum curation and best practices. The project will develop activities for a middle school summer camp program. Activities will be designed to promote scientific literacy, and will mainly serve historically underrepresented groups in STEM.

By partnering with the existing Thematic Collections Network (TCN) InvertEBase, this project will extend the available data for invertebrate species? geographic ranges and biodiversity in North America for researchers, land managers and the general public. For the first time, UCM specimen records will be electronically accessible for over 43,000 lots of invertebrates from the Colorado Rocky Mountains and Great Plains. High resolution stacked digital images of over 1,000 exemplar specimens will be taken and shared, and will include 277 primary type specimens. Approximately 150 historic microscope slides from the collection will be imaged with a scanning microscope to produce research quality images of important diagnostic features from a variety of taxa. Finally, 8,000 gastropod snail records from the Rocky Mountains and Great Plains will be georeferenced to allow advancement in scientific and public understanding of the distribution of this group, and how elevation and climate influence their distribution.

Project Sponsor: University of Colorado at Boulder (NSF Award #2001640)

Principal Investigators: Leanne Elder (PI)