The Macroalgal Herbarium Consortium: Accessing 150 Years of Specimen Data to Understand Changes in the Marine/Aquatic Environment

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Digitization TCN: The Macroalgal Herbarium Consortium: Accessing 150 Years of Specimen Data to Understand Changes in the Marine/Aquatic Environment

Macroalgal TCN
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Project Summary

This award will support investigators from a consortium of 50 herbaria at universities, botanical gardens, and natural history museums across the U.S. to digitize their collections of macroalgae. When they have finished, high resolution images and information about when and where each specimen was collected will be openly accessible for more than a million specimens through the consortium's web portal and the iDigBio web resource. Macroalgae are the foundation of marine, estuarine and freshwater benthic ecosystems providing food, substrata and protection for a myriad of other aquatic organisms. Many macroalgal species are sensitive to environmental change. The data provided through the portal will allow researchers and the public at large determine how macroalgal biodiversity and our aquatic ecosystems have changed over the past 150 years as a result of climate change, bioinvasions, and a wide range of human activity.

A number of macroalgal species, including kelp, nori, and others are grown extensively via aquaculture or harvested from the wild for human food and for extraction of colloids used in cosmetics, food products, and pharmaceuticals. The consortium's web portal will provide opportunities for the public to learn about the economic and ecological importance of macroalgae. Tools will be provided for citizen scientists to contribute to the project by helping transcribe some of the ancillary details from specimen labels into the database. Interactive exhibits and educational modules will be developed by the education departments of the museums in the consortium where hundreds of thousands of visitors will experience them each year. The project will also provide integrative training in collections and informatics research for undergraduate and graduate students through participation in the digitization effort and through internships at one of the museums. 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 focuses on the documentation of ecological changes in marine, estuarine and freshwater environments.

  • Temporal and spatial data on macroalgal distribution will help track the spread of invasive species, identify the dispersal vectors, allow assessment of the impact on native community structure.
  • Assessment of the effects of climate change on aquatic environments.
  • Temporal changes in the geographic distribution of macroalgae can be used to understand the impact of human activity on aquatic ecosystems.
  • Taxonomic research, species identification, species distribution and documentation of range extensions.

Project Websites & Social Media

Macroalgal Herbarium Portal

Citizen Science & Outreach Projects

Bishop Museum Education (2015) Macroalgae in our lives (video for Science on a Sphere programming).

Project Leadership

Project Sponsor: University of New Hampshire (NSF Award 1304924)

Principal Investigator (PI): Christopher Neefus

Collaboratoring Award PIs: Christopher Dick, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; Brent Mishler, University of California Berkeley; David Giblin, University of Washington; Alan Weakley, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Kenneth Karol, New York Botanical Garden

Project Collaborators

Map of Collaborating Institutions

Bishop Museum
Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Brown University
Butler University
Drexel University - Academy of Natural Sciences
Duke University
Field Museum of Natural History
Friday Harbor Laboratories
Harvard University
Hopkins Marine Station
Humboldt State University
Louisiana State University & Agricultural and Mechanical College
Miami University (Ohio)
Michigan State University
Mote Marine Laboratory
National Tropical Botanical Garden
New York Botanical Garden (NSF Award 1304933)
New York State Museum
Oregon State University
Rutgers University
San Diego Natural History Museum
Shasta College
Texas A&M University
University of Alabama
University of Alaska - Fairbanks
University of Alaska - Southeast
University of California - Berkeley (NSF Award 1303909)
University of California - Davis
University of California - Irvine
University of California - Santa Barbara
University of Connecticut
University of Florida, Florida Museum of Natural History
University of Guam - Marine Lab
University of Hawaii - Manoa
University of Massachusetts - Amherst
University of Michigan - Ann Arbor (NSF Award 1303779)
University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill (NSF Award 1304861)
University of North Carolina - Wilmington
University of Rhode Island
University of South Carolina
University of South Florida
University of Texas - Marine Institute
University of Texas - Pan American
University of Utah
University of Vermont
University of Washington (NSF Award 1304824)
West Virginia University
Yale University, Peabody Museum
Youngstown State University

Protocols & Workflows

Digitization resources


  1. Karol, Kenneth G., and Robin S. Sleith. "Discovery of the oldest record of Nitellopsis obtusa (Charophyceae, Charophyta) in North America." Journal of Phycology (2017).
  2. Kerr, AM, T Schils, and CL Raulerson. “The University of Guam Herbarium: The First 50 Years.” Micronesica 2015–01 (2015): 1–7.
  3. McCormcik, CA. “Make Room for Harvey!” Newsletter, North Carolina Botanical Garden 42 (2014): 8.
  4. Schoonover, K, and Charles T. Mohr. “University of Alabama Herbarium (UNA) Algae Collection: An Overview.” Phycological Newsletter 51, no. 1 (2015): 21.

Professional Presentations

iDigBio Summit V, 2015

Other project documentation