The Key to the Cabinets: Building and Sustaining a Research Database for a Global Biodiversity Hotspot

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Digitization TCN: The Key to the Cabinets: Building and Sustaining a Research Database for a Global Biodiversity Hotspot

Project Summary

The southeastern USA is botanically rich, with areas of high global biodiversity in both the Appalachians and the coastal plain. Millions of plant specimens have been collected from this region over the past four centuries, and these specimens and the information they contain currently reside in museums, or herbaria, at universities across the area. Scientists study these specimens intently; however, it is difficult to retrieve information at broad geographic and taxonomic scales without pipelines to move the information electronically from the specimen to an accessible pool of data. SERNEC, or the SouthEast Regional Network of Expertise and Collections, is a large regional network of botanical experts and collections that has, through an NSF-sponsored research coordination network (RCN) project, developed critical skills in biodiversity informatics. The current project will allow the SERNEC group to make data available for over 3 million specimens using the latest photography and information capture tools and to engage citizen scientists and students to assist in transcribing and georeferencing this large dataset. The research generated through this project can help regional planners, land managers and communities to manage their natural resources in our ever-changing environment.

The interaction of scientists, citizen scientists, and students will provide a synergy to build a research tool of an unparalleled scale and scope. The ultimate goal of this project is to develop an imaged and databased set of over 3 million specimens from over 100 herbaria in one of the most floristically diverse regions in North America and a global hotspot of plant diversity. This will represent a valuable data source for research on the response of vegetation to climate change, human development, and rapid migrations of introduced species. This region has been a biodiversity hotspot for 100 million years and this project should encourage research on changes over time to develop better predictive models as areas of biodiversity change. By partnering with Symbiota, Notes from Nature, GEOLocate, Adler Planetarium, iPlant/TACC, and Specify, the project will develop ways to best integrate various efforts for data accessibility. 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 (iDigBio.org).

Current Research

Project Leadership

Project Sponsor: Appalachian State University

Principal Investigator (PI): Zack Murrell

Collaboratoring Award PIs: Lisa Wallace, Mississippi State University; Dixie Damrel, Clemson University; Leslie Goertzen, Auburn University; Joey Shaw, University of Tennessee Chattanooga; Alan Weakley, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Emily Gillespie, Marshall University Research Corporation; Brad Ruhfel, Eastern Kentucky University; Andrea Weeks, George Mason University; Wendy Zomlefer, University of Georgia Research Foundation Inc; Travis Marsico, Arkansas State University Main Campus; Thomas Sasek, University of Louisiana at Monroe; Austin Mast, Florida State University

NSF Award Number

1410069

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