Symbiota Collections of Arthropods Network (SCAN)

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Digitization TCN: Symbiota Collections of Arthropods Network (SCAN): A Model for Collections Digitization to Promote Taxonomic and Ecological Research

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Project Summary
Current Research
Project Websites
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Project Summary

The Symbiota Collections of Arthropods Network (SCAN) brings together 10 diverse arthropod collections at universities and museums throughout the Southwest to create a virtual network of ground dwelling arthropods which are notably responsive to temporal and spatial environmental changes. These 10 collections document much of the Southwest's biodiversity, but currently the data associated with millions of arthropod specimens are not easily accessible. To overcome this, SCAN will develop methods for integrating existing databases, catalogue-image specimens, develop new electronic identification techniques, and produce a virtual library of ground-dwelling arthropods (beetles, grasshoppers, spiders, ants). In addition the project will work with the existing project Filtered Push to increase the capacity of experts to provide remote identifications and annotations of data that can be sent throughout the network.

The comprehensive SCAN online library and expert information will be available to the public as well as professionals in taxonomy, ecology, and climate change science. Smaller institutions will be provided increased access to large data sets for promoting research. The SCAN datasets will support a number of ongoing projects examining the effects of environmental and land-use change on individual arthropod species. By increasing access to this information, SCAN will stimulate new research and increased awareness in biodiversity conservation throughout the region. Over 50 undergraduates also will be trained in cyberinfrastructure, systematics, and ecology. 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 award will be available through the national resource (

Current Research

The current research focus is to use the data for niche/biodiversity modeling, historical ecology, and improving taxonomic resources for inventories, monitoring, and ecological studies that do not have the direct involvement of taxonomists.

The modeling aspect involves a suite of possible activities including present-day niche modeling, species distribution modeling (e.g., MaxEnt), and multi-species modeling to examine patterns of biodiversity. All formal modeling can include both forward projections under various climate change scenarios, and backward projections to understand possible historical or paleo distributions.

Project Websites & Social Media

SCAN Website
SCAN Portal

Citizen Science & Outreach Projects

Project Leadership

Project Sponsor: Northern Arizona University (NSF Award 1207371)

Principal Investigator (PI): Neil Cobb (PI), Kelly Miller (Co-PI), Paul Heinrich (Co-PI)

Collaborating Award PIs:
Arizona State University, Nico Franz & Ed Gilbert; Colorado State University, Boris Kondratieff; Denver Museum of Nature and Science, Frank Krell & Paula Cushing; New Mexico State University, Scott Bundy; Texas A&M, John Oswald & Ed Riley; University of Arizona, Wendy Moore; University of Colorado at Boulder, Deane Bowers; University of New Mexico, Kelly Miller; Texas Tech University, James Cokendolpher; Harvard University, James Hanken & Paul Morris

Project Collaborators

Map of Collaborating Institutions

Arizona State University (ASU) (NSF Award 1207107)
Colorado State University, C.P. Gillette Museum of Arthropod Diversity (CSU) (NSF Award 1206775)
Denver Museum of Nature and Science (DMNS) (NSF Award 1207186)
Harvard University, Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ)
New Mexico State University (NMSU) (NSF Award 1207187)
Northern Arizona University, Colorado Plateau Museum of Arthropod Biodiversity (NAUF)
Texas A&M University (TAMU) (NSF Award 1207033)
Texas A&M University Tri-Trophic Interactions Collection (TAMU)
Texas Tech University (TTU) (NSF Award 1206951)
University of Arizona (UA) (NSF Award 1206382)
University of Colorado Museum of Natural History (UCB) (NSF Award 1206706)
University of New Mexico, Museum of Southwestern Biology (UNM)

Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University
Brigham Young University - Monte L. Bean Life Science Museum, Arthropod Collection (BYU)
Harvard University, Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ)
Ohio State University (OSAL)
University of Texas, El Paso (UTEP)

Unfunded participants:
Broward College (BROW)
Denver Botanic Gardens Collection of Arthropods (DBG)
Drexel University, Academy of Natural Sciences (PH)
Dugway Proving Ground Natural History Collection (DUGWAY)
Kansas State University (KSU)
Kutztown University (GPSC)
Michigan State University, Albert J. Cook Arthropod Research Collection (MSU)
Milwaukee Public Museum (MPM)
National Park Collections at Colorado State University (CSU-CSUNPS)
National Park Collections at Northern Arizona University (NAU-NPS)
Purdue University (PU)
San Diego State University, Terrestrial Arthropods Collection (SDSU)
Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History (SBMNH)
United States National Museum (USNM)
University of California - Davis, R. M. Bohart Museum of Entomology
University of Delaware (UD)
University of Georgia (UGCA)
University of Hawaii Insect Museum (UHIM)
University of Kentucky, Hymenoptera Institute Collection (UKY)
University of Tennessee, Chattanooga (UTC)
University of Utah Natural History Museum (UMNH)
University of Vermont, Zadock Thompson Zoological Collection (UVM)
Utah Department of Agriculture and Food Entomology Collection (UDAF)
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (VPI)
Western Washington University (WWU)

Protocols & Workflows

Project Resources


  1. Cushing, P. E., Channiago, F., & Brookhart, J. O. (2018). Revision of the camel spider genus Eremocosta Roewer and a description of the female Eremocosta gigas Roewer (Arachnida, Solifugae). Zootaxa, 4402(3), 443-466.
  2. Zhang, G., Basharat, U., Matzke, N., & Franz, N. M. (2017). Model selection in statistical historical biogeography of Neotropical insects—The Exophthalmus genus complex (Curculionidae: Entiminae). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 109, 226-239.
  3. Meyer, Wallace M., Jeffrey A. Eble, Kimberly Franklin, Reilly B. McManus, Sandra L. Brantley, Jeff Henkel, Paul E Marek, et al. “Ground-Dwelling Arthropod Communities of a Sky Island Mountain Range in Southeastern Arizona, USA: Obtaining a Baseline for Assessing the Effects of Climate Change.” PloS One 10, no. 9 (January 2, 2015): e0135210. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0135210.
  4. Cushing, Paula E., Matthew R. Graham, Lorenzo Prendini, and Jack O. Brookhart. “A Multilocus Molecular Phylogeny of the Endemic North American Camel Spider Family Eremobatidae (Arachnida: Solifugae).” Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 92 (November 2015): 280–93. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2015.07.001.
  5. Whitman-zai, Julie, Maren Francis, Margaret Geick, and Paula E. Cushing. “Revision and Morphological Phylogenetic Analysis of the Funnel Web Spider Genus Agelenopsis (Araneae: Agelenidae).” The Journal of Arachnology 43 (2015): 1–25. doi:10.1636/K14-35.1.
  6. Cushing, PE. “Colorado Spider Survey.” Wings: Essays on Invertebrate Conservation 37, no. 1 (2014): 13–16.
  7. Lee, Sangmi. “Preliminary List of the Lepidopterous Insects in the Arizona State University Hasbrouck Insect Collection.” Journal of Asia-Pacific Biodiversity 7, no. 1 (March 2014): e76–94. doi:10.1016/j.japb.2014.03.002.
  8. Franz, Nico M., Charles W. O’Brien, Sarah D. Shirota, Michael T. Shillingburg, and Edward E. Gilbert. “Assembling a Virtual Weevils of North America Checklist with Symbiota – Preliminary Insights.” In 12th Biennial Colorado Plateau Conference Proceedings, 2014.
  9. Gries, Corinna, Edward E. Gilbert, and Nico M. Franz. “Symbiota – A Virtual Platform for Creating Voucher-Based Biodiversity Information Communities.” Biodiversity Data Journal 2, no. 2 (2014): e1114. doi:10.3897/BDJ.2.e1114.
  10. Krell, Frank-thorsten, and Jeffrey T Stephenson. “The Entomology Collection at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science Has a New Home.” Denver Museum of Nature & Science Reports 1 (2014): 1–10.
  11. Lee, Sangmi. “Preliminary List of the Lepidopterous Insects in the Arizona State University Hasbrouck Insect Collection.” Journal of Asia-Pacific Biodiversity 7, no. 1 (March 2014): e76–94. doi:10.1016/j.japb.2014.03.002.
  12. Brusca, Richard C., John F. Wiens, Wallace M. Meyer, Jeffrey A. Eble, Kimberly Franklin, Jonathan T. Overpeck, and Wendy Moore. “Dramatic Response to Climate Change in the Southwest: Robert Whittaker’s 1963 Arizona Mountain Plant Transect Revisited.” Ecology and Evolution 3, no. 10 (2013): 3307–19. doi:10.1002/ece3.720.
  13. Smith, Aaron D. “Phylogenetic Revision of the North American Asidini (Coleoptera: Tenebrionidae).” Systematic Entomology 38, no. 3 (2013): 585–614. doi:10.1111/syen.12017.
  14. Moore, Wendy, Wallace M. Meyer, Jeffrey A. Eble, Kimberly Franklin, John F. Wiens, and Richard C. Brusca. “Introduction to the Arizona Sky Island Arthropod Project (ASAP): Systematics , Biogeography , Ecology, and Population Genetics of Arthropods of the Madrean Sky Islands.” In Merging Science and Management in a Rapidly Changing World: Biodiversity and Management of the Madrean Archipelago III and 7th Conference on Research and Resource Management in the Southwestern Deserts; 2012 May 1-5; Tucson, AZ, edited by GJ Gottfried, PF Ffolliott, BS Gebow, LG Eskew, and LC Collins, 144–68. Tucson, AZ, 2013.

Professional Presentations

iDigBio Summit V, 2015

Other project documentation


Digitization PEN: Facilitating a Shared Image Library and Occurrence Database for Ants of the Southwest as Part of the SCAN TCN

An award is made to complement the Southwest Collections of Arthropods Network (SCAN) Thematic Collection Network (TCN). SCAN is a collaborative of museums that pool their resources and digitize information for all their specimens of ground-dwelling insects and close relatives. The Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ) at Harvard will partner with SCAN and contribute world-renowned expertise in the identification and digitization of ants. Digital records of the some 90,000 specimens of ants from the American Southwest, including the type specimens (individual ants from which species have been described), will be imaged, digitized and made available on line. The project will be of value both to scientists studying biodiversity and the responses of ant species to climate change in the Southwest, and to non-scientists seeking to identify their species.

The broader impacts of this project will focus on the Navajo Nation, where researchers from the MCZ with Navajo scientists and student interns, have already collected more than 15,000 ants. Additional material to be developed with help from educators involved in Encyclopedia of Life (EOL) will include a local field guide to the ants. 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 (

Project Sponsor: Harvard University (NSF Award 1305024)

Principal Investigator (PI): Naomi Pierce

Digitization PEN: Ground-dwelling Insects in the Brigham Young University Collection, Enhancement to SCAN

Activities in this project will result in the databasing of 52,300 insect specimens from the Monte L. Bean Life Science Museum at Brigham Young University (BYU). The BYU collection is the largest insect collection west of the Great Plains and east of the Pacific coast. Many of the BYU specimens were collected in the first half of the 20th century, and they therefore contribute a great deal of legacy data critical for scientific studies. It preserves a wealth of information on distributions and habits of important species, including agricultural pests, medically important species, threatened and endangered species, and beneficial species such as pollinators. This information will be made widely accessible by cataloguing and photographing specimens and then publishing the results on the Web. The project will provide an outstanding mentored experience for numerous students, including those traditionally underrepresented in the sciences. In addition, the project will result in an interactive museum display to teach basic principles in the change of organismal distributions over time.

The insect collection at Brigham Young University (BYU) joins the Southwest Collections of Arthropods Network (SCAN) in creating an extensive, Web-accessible catalogue of museum specimens. Project activities include: (1) Capturing collecting and identification data from 52,000 previously uncatalogued ground-dwelling arthropod specimens from the BYU collection representing the four focal insect families in SCAN: Acrididae, Carabidae, Tenebrionidae, and Formicidae. (2) Georeferencing specimen localities contributed to SCAN, utilizing GEOLocate and other resources, and upgrading fading locality labels on legacy specimens with archival quality labels. (3) Producing high-resolution images of type specimens of all ground-dwelling arthropod species whose type material is housed at BYU. (4) Contributing to SCAN's synthetic regional database to promote accessible, well-structured, taxonomically sound data for modeling climate change impacts on species distributions, and thereby enhancing SCAN's remote specimen annotation and identification workflows. 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 ( portals.

Project Sponsor: Brigham Young University (NSF Award 1408607)

Principal Investigators (PIs):
Shawn Clark (PI)
Neil Cobb (Co-PI)
Charles Nelson (Co-PI)
Michael Whiting (Co-PI)

Digitization PEN: Integration of Data from the Triplehorn Insect Collection with the Southwestern Collections of Arthropods Network

This project will capture and disseminate data on the geographic distribution, species diversity, and life history for two important indicator groups of animals: the darkling beetles and ground beetles. These data will be acquired from collections made over the past 70 years from Texas to southern California by faculty and staff of the Ohio State University. Information will be transcribed from the individual labels on 80 thousand specimens and uploaded into publicly accessible databases. The project is a partnership with an existing project, the Southwestern Collections of Arthropods Network (SCAN), and will more than double the available data for these targeted groups of beetles.

Dramatic changes in the American Southwest over the past century has resulted in greater pressure for resources, particularly water. Past and future changes will be visible as alterations in the community of plants and animals of the region. This project seeks to add data that fills critical gaps in the SCAN TCN project for two families, Tenebrionidae and Carabidae, of beetles. These data will be a major contribution to monitoring and assessing environmental changes in the region and their effects on biological diversity. 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 (

Project Sponsor: Ohio State University (NSF Award 1503659)

Principal Investigators (PIs):
Norman Johnson (PI)
Luciana Musetti (Co-PI)

Facebook: OSU Triplehorn Insect Collection


Digitization PEN: The Addition of OrthopNet to SCAN

The insect collection of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University holds one of the world's most important collections of grasshoppers. The Academy proposes to digitize and make accessible information associated with approximately 54,000 of its grasshopper specimens from the southwestern United States. These data will benefit the general public and research scientists, as they will facilitate the understanding of grasshopper distribution, the identification of pest species and species new to science, and contribute to understanding how species respond to environmental change. Field notebooks documenting geographic and associated species information will be scanned and made available on the World Wide Web. The notebooks are important beyond the specimen information they contain. They include observations from the early 20th century regarding vegetation, climate, land use, animal communities, native peoples and their life styles. This information potentially informs other disciplines including ecology, history and anthropology. This project establishes a collaborative framework involving Academy researchers, college students, and high school students, including individuals from groups under-represented in STEM, with an interest in the biodiversity sciences. The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University (ANSP) has partnered with the Symbiota Collections of Arthropods Network (SCAN) as a Partner to an Existing Network (PEN) to build OrthopNet. The OrthopNet project will capture specimen level data from approximately 54,000 specimens of southwestern Acrididae (grasshoppers) and serve this data to SCAN. These data will aid in understanding grasshopper distributions, identify pest species and species new to science, and inform global biodiversity issues. The Academy of Natural Sciences is the oldest natural history museum in the Americas, founded in 1812. The Academy's Acrididae (grasshopper) collection is one of the best and most comprehensive in the world. The targeted collection was accrued by Academy researchers surveying grasshoppers in the southwestern United States starting in the early 1900s. The Academy's archives also contain field notebooks associated with these southwestern US collecting expeditions. These documents will be imaged following the Smithsonian Libraries Macaw metadata collection protocol, and hosted on the World Wide Web by the Biodiversity Heritage Library. Mining these notebooks for additional locality information will aid in georeferencing specimen records, linking field notes and other specimen information, further enhancing the value of the collection. The historical information obtained from the field notebooks will inform other disciplines including ecology, history and anthropology. Funding for Academy researchers, university students, and underserved high school students is also provided. Products generated from the project will be available at

Project Sponsor: Academy of Natural Sciences Philadelphia (NSF Award 1600763)

Principal Investigator (PI): Jon K. Gelhaus



Digitization PEN: Incorporation of a Massive New World Invertebrate Collection at the University of Texas at El Paso

The University of Texas at El Paso Biodiversity Collections (UTEP-BC) currently contains tens of thousands of invaluable natural history specimens and associated tissues for DNA studies, including 355,000 invertebrate specimens from every state in the US and nearly every country in the continental western hemisphere. Although these collections have a global purview, they are mainly focused on the Chihuahuan Desert Ecoregion of the southwestern US and northern Mexico, which is the primary focus of the SCAN (Symbiota Collections of Arthropods Network) Thematic Collections Network (TCN). This project will provide training for over 20 undergraduate students, and one graduate student. These students will participate in a research experience activity to visit the UTEP Indio Mountains Research Station to follow and understand the process of collection data capture from field to collection to public accessibility through SCAN, by observing ants and other ground-dwelling arthropods in the field, uploading photos to iNaturalist (with research-grade identifications), and by collecting specimens and associated data. These students and another cadre of UTEP art students will also collaborate on a public museum exhibit about Ants of the New World. The majority of the exhibits will feature highly accurate 3D printer models (about 30 cm long) of actual ant specimens from the collections.

In this project, the UTEP-BC aims to join the SCAN project via Northern Arizona University. The primary goal of SCAN is to form a digital and virtual network of disparate collections in the southwestern US, which can be captured by the iDigBio infrastructure for large-scale biodiversity science analyses. The SCAN network has prioritized five arthropod groups: ants (Formicidae), ground beetles (Carabidae), grasshoppers (Acrididae), darkling beetles (Tenebrionidae), and spiders (Araneae). The UTEP-BC has substantial holdings of these arthropods, and as digitized records for these specimens are migrated to Arctos (the online database in use at UTEP), these data can be easily captured by into the SCAN network and shared with iDigBio ( A primary goal of this project is to provide georeferenced coordinate data (via GEOLocate and other resources) and other quality-control corrections for 25,725 collection events (representing ca. 232,000 specimens) that predate modern GPS technology (before 2000) for the five focal arthropod groups in the UTEP-BC collections. Overall, this will increase the total number of recently catalogued specimens by SCAN from 253,717 to 485,717, an increase of 90%. The project includes extensive training of students, a population-genetics project that will utilize ant specimens from the UTEP-BC, and a major public museum exhibit about Ants of the New World.

Project Sponsor: Academy of Natural Sciences Philadelphia (NSF Award 1702360)

Principal Investigator (PI): Eli Greenbaum, Philip Lavretsky (Co-PI)



Digitization PEN: Field Museum of Natural History Partnership with the Southwest Collection of Arthropods Network

Arthropods play a major role in shaping the ecosystems of the southwestern United States and around the world. Arthropod research collections housed in museums and universities contain key data for studying these roles. Collections data can be used in ecological studies and to produce identification tools, but for many collections these data are hidden away on specimen labels and in field notes. The Southwest Collection of Arthropods Network (SCAN) was established to improve accessibility of collections like these, with a goal to capturing the data written on 750,000 arthropod specimen labels, allowing researchers to explore how arthropods shape the ecosystems of the southwest and how they respond natural and anthropogenic change. This Partner to Existing Networks (PEN) award to the Field Museum will enhance SCAN through the addition of label data from over 100,000 beetle specimens of SCAN target taxa, representing 860 species. Beyond the scientific value of the data will contributed to SCAN, this project will take advantage of the Field Museum's strong history in public outreach and status in the Chicago community to support informal educational opportunities focused on ground-dwelling arthropods both locally and across the globe.

This PEN project will make available the ecological, distributional, and morphological data from four beetle families for which the Field Museum has large, historical holdings: The darkling beetles (Tenebrionidae), the ant loving beetles (Pselaphinae), the feather-wing beetles (Ptiliidae) and the ironclad beetles (Zopheridae). The project will enhance the SCAN dataset by addressing critical taxonomic and distributional gaps. The Field Museum's collection of 60,000 Pselaphinae specimens, a group whose evolutionary history is deeply intertwined the ants (another target taxon), is the most comprehensive and heavily-researched collection of these beetles in the world. It is rich with type specimens (120 primary types), associated field notes, ecological data, and undescribed taxa, yet these data are still not digitally available. The project team will implement a workflow that involves 1) imaging and transcribing data from all labels on 100,000 selected specimens and adding the data added to the Field Museum's EMu database, 2) imaging all North American primary types for target taxa, 3) georeferencing all southwestern collection localities in the Field Museum Insect Collection database, 4) making these data available through the SCAN portal, GBIF, and iDigBio ( data portals, and 5) augmenting current digitization workflows at the Field Museum to leverage the intern and volunteer contributions and sustain digitization through establishment of a highly trained team of digitization volunteers and interns.

Project Sponsor: Field Museum of Natural History (NSF Award 1802353)

Principal Investigator (PI): Crystal Maier (PI)

Contribution of Digital Data from Ground-dwelling Orthopteroid Orders at American Museum of Natural History to the Symbiota Collections of Arthropods Network

Our Earth is a dynamic, ever-changing planet of interacting species ranging from microscopic viruses and bacteria to hundred-ton whales. Just about all life on Earth exists due to intricate interactions that produce or allow for the production of food, medicine, shelter, fiber, fuel through pollination, decomposition, nutrient cycling and more. The cascading consequences of ecosystem shifts on these interactions and products can be understood by examining species distribution and diversity, as well as physical variation within and among species across a geographic range, in relation to environmental factors. Natural history collections hold such information and are a record of what happened yesterday to millions of years ago. These research collections can reveal putative reasons for past events, from which predictions about the future direction ecosystems may take and preparations for potentially volatile outcomes can be made. However, the details in these collections, some dating back 150 years or more, are often recorded on a minute slip of paper tied to a wing, tucked in the grooves of a bone or pierced with a pin underneath a collected insect. To unlock the secrets of the past for the benefit of the future, taxonomic, locality, time, and associated environmental condition collection information must be transcribed into digital form to be available for analysis.

The Symbiota Collection of Arthropods Network Thematic Collection Network (SCAN TCN) has digitized specimens of select ground-dwelling insects collected from the southwestern U.S. and Mexico from 16 U.S. institutions. As a Partner to the Existing Network (PEN), the Division of Invertebrate Zoology (IZ) of the American Museum of Natural History will contribute data from 53,800 ground-dwelling roach (?Blattaria?), earwig (Dermaptera), cricket and grasshopper (Orthoptera) specimens representing ca. 310 species in the AMNH collection. Tools such as automated image cropping and optical character recognition and help of volunteer citizen scientists are integral to this effort, an often slow and tedious process for old, handwritten labels no larger than a centimeter. The result will be a more complete and robust understanding of species diversity and representation of current and past ecosystems and the impact of natural and anthropogenic activities. Localities will be georeferenced so specimens can be mapped in space and time, species distributions can be refined and models of distributional, ecological and diversity changes can be improved. High resolution images of exemplar males, females, alternative morphs, and AMNH holotypes for target species will aid in species identification and comparison. Additional images of earwig cerci (hind pincers) and expanded grasshopper hindwings will be available for data visualization projects. Data and images will be shared with the greater scientific community and public through AMNH?s portal, as well as with, and SCAN.

Project Sponsor: American Museum of Natural History (NSF Award #2001323)

Principal Investigators: Christine Johnson (PI)