If you have a computer, you can help move museum research forward in three minutes or less.
Community 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 select one of the many active projects to work on.
- 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.
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.
Help digitize underwing moths from the Florida Museum’s McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity. Many moths in the genus Catocala have forewings with patterns that help them blend into their environment, but their hindwings can be vividly colored with orange, red, white or even blue.
This collection is unique and perhaps more challenging than some other ones, but your assistance transcribing these labels makes their data available to institutions worldwide.
Label digitization is a slow process, and the Notes from Nature team is working on ways to make it more efficient. One step in improving this process is to create ways for computers to automatically detect specimen labels and the text they contains. “Label Babel 2” is an expedition that helps train algorithms to autodetect these labels. This expedition is a little different in that it involves drawing boxes around labels, and there is no text transcription.
More information about this endeavor can be found in the research section.
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.
On the hunt for more?
Surf the Zooniverse, an online platform for finding community science projects that can be done from your couch. It’s also where you can connect with new Notes from Nature projects.
You can also follow Notes from Nature on Twitter at @nfromn.
Robert Guralnick, Florida Museum curator of informatics, is also a Notes from Nature principal investigator. Allen is a former Florida Museum postdoctoral researcher.