The Mid-Atlantic Megalopolis

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Digitization TCN: The Mid-Atlantic Megalopolis: Achieving a greater scientific understanding of our urban world

The Mid-Atlantic Megalopolis TCN (MAM)
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Project Summary

In light of the increasingly urban future of our planet, a thorough understanding of the biological processes at work in urban areas is necessary for the continued survival of Earth's inhabitants, including humans. The first step in that understanding is to know what thrives, survives, or perishes in cities, now and in the past. The Mid-Atlantic Megalopolis (MAM) Project begins this study by looking at vascular plants, with the digitization of roughly 700,000 herbarium specimens from eleven institutions, including public and private universities, state agencies, arboreta, museums, and botanic gardens, in the urban corridor from New York City to Washington, D.C. As the largest, oldest, and most populated urban corridor in the U.S., this area and its flora present a unique opportunity for the study of urbanization, particularly given its rich herbarium collections, containing specimens collected over the last 400 years. The data mobilized in this effort will help us achieve a better scientific understanding of living urban systems, a critical need for urban planners, restoration ecologists, environmental engineers, (landscape) architects, and conservationists engaged in creating more sustainable and better designed cities, including the constructed and restored natural environments of our urban areas.

Digitization of each specimen in the MAM Project will result in a high resolution image, a databased record of collection metadata, and a georeferenced point, all of which will be made publicly available online. Building on already successful regional programs, the MAM Project will partner with schools, universities, botanical clubs, and the general public to crowd source databasing efforts and to recruit citizen scientists to help build urban floras online, enabling not only increased digitization efficiency, but educational and research opportunities as well. The MAM Project also includes new developments for data cleaning and standardization in Symbiota, which will expedite the use of digitized specimen data for research, and new reporting features which will advance digitization workflow and project management. 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

The data mobilized in this digitization effort will enable an advancement in the scientific understanding of urbanization, which species have occurred and when in urban floras, how those species assemble in microhabitats within urban and industrialized areas, and how this heterogeneity in urban habitat and biodiversity relates to land use and land cover patterns. The project will enable the study of the adaptation of floras to cities, and how characteristic traits are correlated with adaptation, extirpation or invasion.

Project Websites & Social Media

MAM Project Website
MAM Symbiota Portal

Citizen Science & Outreach Projects

Project Leadership

Project sponsor: Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania (NSF Award 1601697)

Principal Investigator (PI): Cynthia Skema, Tim Block

Project Coordinator: Anne Barber

Project Collaborators

Map of Collaborating Institutions

Academy of Natural Sciences Philadelphia – Tatyana Livshultz, Richard McCourt (NSF Award 1601503)
Arizona State University – Nico Franz, Ed Gilbert
Delaware State University – Cynthia Hong-Wa (NSF Award 1601393)
Howard University – Janelle Burke (NSF Award 1600976)
Maryland Department of Natural Resources – Christopher Frye
Muhlenberg College – Richard Niesenbaum
New York Botanical Garden – Barbara Thiers, Kim Watson (NSF Award 1600981)
Pennsylvania State University – Claude dePamphilis, Sarah Chamberlain (NSF Award 1702441)
Rutgers University, New Brunswick – Lena Struwe, Myla Aronson (NSF Award 1601101)
Staten Island Institute of Arts and Sciences / Staten Island Museum Herbarium – Audrey Malachowsky
Towson University – David Hearn, Christa Partain (subaward to NSF Award 1601429)
University of Maryland, College Park – John Hall, Maile Neel (NSF Award 1601429)

Unfunded Contributors

Carnegie Museum of Natural History Herbarium - Bonnie Isaac

Protocols & Workflows

Download the most recent version of our manual: MAM Digitization Standards and Training Manual


Professional Presentations & Workshops

Morris Arboretum Volunteers Transcription Workshop
11 October 2017
Morris Arboretum
Philadelphia, PA
A workshop on transcribing records in the MAM portal.

Philadelphia Botanical Club Floristics Workshop
22 June 2017
Academy of Natural Sciences
Philadelphia, PA
A workshop on using web tools to build and maintain dynamic, virtual floras in the MAM portal.

New York Botanical Garden Floristics Workshop
25-26 February 2017
New York Botanical Garden
Bronx, NY
A workshop on using web tools to build and maintain dynamic, virtual floras in the MAM portal.

Other project documentation