If you have a computer, you can help move museum research forward in three minutes or less.
Citizen scientists can use Notes from Nature, a digital platform funded by the National Science Foundation, to contribute to research around the world by transcribing handwritten information about museum specimens.
These 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. But handwritten specimen labels are 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 and a Notes from Nature principal investigator.
That’s where you come in.
Your efforts help researchers investigate topics ranging from the ideal living conditions of lice to how climate change is affecting when plants flower in California. Every completed transcription brings us closer to filling gaps in our knowledge of global biodiversity and natural heritage.
So, take a break from scrolling, and become a virtual science volunteer!
- Go to Notes from Nature and choose an expedition.
- Click a box below “Get started” to open a brief tutorial, which shows you how to enter specimen label information. You can also get help while transcribing a label if you need it. Once you’ve finished the tutorial, you’ll be given your first specimen!
- Enter your responses and select “Done” to share them. Or, select “Done & Talk” to provide feedback on the quality of the specimen and label.
If you get stuck, don’t worry! Give it your best guess. Notes from Nature doesn’t approve data entry until it detects several consistent entries per specimen.
The Florida Museum geometrid moth collection, curated by lepidopterist Charlie Covell, contains key data on how geometrid moths mimic their surroundings, how species’ appearance has changed over time due to industrial pollution and how their destructive pest behavior can impact hardwood trees. Researchers need help transcribing these labels to improve their understanding of the collection and make their data available to institutions worldwide.
Nitrogen is an essential nutrient and major growth booster for plants. Some plants, such as soybeans, can capture their own nitrogen with the help of certain bacteria. Scientists at the Florida Museum of Natural History and the University of Florida are honing in on the evolutionary relationships between these nitrogen-fixing species to bioengineer similarly self-fertilizing plants.
By reducing the need for nitrogen fertilizers, scientists can increase food sustainability, reduce pollution from agricultural runoff, lower carbon dioxide emissions from farm fields and cut costs for farmers.
Your transcriptions can help scientists build up their data.
Here’s a head-scratcher: Parasites such as lice, fleas and ticks are key vectors for infectious diseases, but they remain underrepresented in museum collections, often hidden in the collections of their preferred hosts.
Gathering information on these hidden collections can help researchers track parasite distribution patterns, match species to hosts and better understand how they contribute to the spread of disease.
Help scientists gather important baseline data on parasites by digitizing specimen labels.
Help build the historical baseline for plant biodiversity and distribution in Florida by digitizing botanical specimen labels on plants ranging from seagrass to spiderworts. Understanding what scientists documented in Florida decades ago and comparing these species to those here today can help scientists see how climate patterns and other factors might be influencing plant biodiversity.
WeDigBio Lite is a virtual citizen science campaign that mobilizes participants to create digital data about biodiversity specimens, including fish in jars, plants on sheets, insects on pins and fossils in drawers. Notes from Nature is one of the platforms featured in this year’s virtual event.
On the hunt for more?
Surf the Zooniverse, an online platform for finding citizen science projects that can be done from your couch. It’s also where you can connect with new Notes from Nature projects.
Robert Guralnick, Florida Museum curator of informatics, is also a Notes from Nature principal investigator. Allen is a former Florida Museum postdoctoral researcher.