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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — If you have a computer, you can help move research forward this Thursday through Sunday by participating in WeDigBio Lite, a virtual citizen science festival.

Volunteers play a vital role in bringing museum collections online by transcribing handwritten information about specimens so it can be added to searchable databases, contributing to research around the world.

Volunteer working at a computer
A volunteer digitizes a “Notes from Nature” entry, which helps transcribe museum records. Florida Museum photo by Kristen Grace

Museum specimens provide an invaluable record of life on Earth, telling the story of a changing climate, invasive species, evolution, disease and how plants and animals have moved over time. Many specimen labels, however, are handwritten, a roadblock in scientists’ efforts to find target species online or use them in big data studies.

“If it takes three minutes to transcribe one specimen label, it would take one person 342 years working 24 hours a day to transcribe all of the specimens in the U.S. alone. That’s why we need the public’s help,” said Julie Allen, assistant professor at the University of Nevada, Reno.

Allen, a former postdoctoral researcher at the Florida Museum of Natural History, is a principal investigator for Notes from Nature, a digital platform for various museum research projects or “expeditions.” Citizen scientists’ transcription efforts help researchers investigate topics ranging from the ideal living conditions of lice to how climate change is affecting when plants flower in California.

Notes from Nature, which was launched by Florida Museum Curator of Informatics Robert Guralnick, is one of the main platforms featured in the WeDigBio Lite event. Both initiatives are funded by the National Science Foundation.

“Each transcription we do puts another point on our digital map of biodiversity and connects to our planet’s irreplaceable biological legacy,” Guralnick said.​

Notes from Nature and WeDigBio are funded by the National Science Foundation.

Learn about Florida Museum expeditions on Notes from Nature.

Connect with Notes from Nature and WeDigBio on Twitter.

Visit the Notes from Nature FAQ page to learn more about the basics of specimen transcription.

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Sources: Julie Allen, jallen23@unr.edu;
Robert Guralnick, rguralnick@flmnh.ufl.edu
Media contact: Natalie van Hoose, nvanhoose@flmnh.ufl.edu