Bringing natural history collections out of the dark

Jul 24, 2012
This shows the daunting task of digitizing natural history collections. Credit: Laurence Livermore

In a special issue of ZooKeys, initiated by the Natural History Museum London, Vince Smith and Vladimir Blagoderov bring together 18 papers by 81 authors to look at progress and prospects for mass digitising entire natural history collections.

Centuries of exploration and discovery have documented the on Earth. Records of this biodiversity are, for the most part, distributed across varied and distinct natural history collections worldwide. That has made the task of assessing the information in these collections an immense challenge, the largest of which is how to capture specimen data fast enough to achieve digitisation of entire collections while maintaining sufficient data quality.

Now, an effort is underway to digitise major collections to unlock their research potential and provide unlimited access to the public. This series of eighteen articles in the open-access journal ZooKeys examines recent advances in imaging systems and data gathering techniques, combined with more collaborative approaches to digitisation. These provide a snapshot of progress toward the creation of a global virtual natural history museum.

"As a sample of the natural world, these collections underpin our understanding of ecosystems, biodiversity and the sustainable use of natural resources" says Vince Smith, Cybertaxonomist at the London. "Technical innovations in digitising hardware, software and data interactions are now making it possible to conceive of wholly digital collections, creating a new frontier for natural history research".

By scanning the 2D matrix code on the label, the user can get a unique collection number and thus link to the collection details of the relevant specimen. Credit: Martijn Timmermans

Examples of research covered by these articles include a description to efforts digitise 30 million plant, insect and vertebrate specimens at NCB Naturalis in the Netherlands; new scanning and telemicroscopy solutions to digitise the millions of pinned held in the Australian National Insect Collection and its European and North American counterparts; citizen science projects being used to crowdsource the transcription of thousands of specimen labels and field notebooks; and new data portals providing central access to millions of biological specimens across Europe.

Explore further: China's latest survey finds increase in wild giant pandas

More information: Blagoderov V, Smith VS (2012) Bringing collections out of the dark. In: Blagoderov V, Smith VS (Ed) No specimen left behind: mass digitization of natural history collections. ZooKeys 209: 1-6. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.209.3699

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Linear sequences for seed plants

Dec 21, 2011

Scientists have been working out the best way to arrange plant specimens in herbaria and other collections so that their order best reflects evolutionary relationships.

Uncovering behavior of long-dead insects

Jul 19, 2010

What can you learn from the 120 year-old body of a parasitoid wasp? Using material from museum collections, researchers writing in the open access journal BMC Evolutionary Biology report that they can tell how males wasps ...

Mission to map 10 million species in 50 years

Apr 20, 2012

An incredible 18,000 new plant and animal species are discovered each year. But this number is dwarfed by the estimated 10 million more species yet to be discovered. It sounds like an impossible task, but ...

Storing vertebrates in the cloud

Aug 24, 2011

What Google is attempting for books, the University of California, Berkeley, plans to do for the world's vertebrate specimens: store them in "the cloud."

Recommended for you

China's latest survey finds increase in wild giant pandas

11 hours ago

(AP)—Wild giant pandas in China are doing well. According to a census by China's State Forestry Administration, the panda population has grown by 268 to a total of 1,864 since the last survey ending in ...

A molecular compass for bird navigation

Feb 27, 2015

Each year, the Arctic Tern travels over 40,000 miles, migrating nearly from pole to pole and back again. Other birds make similar (though shorter) journeys in search of warmer climes. How do these birds manage ...

100,000 bird samples online

Feb 27, 2015

The Natural History Museum (NHM) in Oslo has a bird collection of international size. It is now available online.

New genetic technologies offer hope for white rhino

Feb 27, 2015

With support from the Seaver Institute, geneticists at San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research are taking the initial steps in an effort to use cryopreserved cells to bring back the northern white rhino from the ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.