The Section of Botany continues to make progress on our NSF funded Mid-Atlantic Megalopolis digitization project. This massive three-year effort involves the creation of a searchable database of nearly a million herbarium specimens from thirteen institutions within the urban corridor stretching from New York City to Washington, D.C.
Although the imaging portion of the project has come to a screeching halt with no access to the specimens and the camera, work continues with the processing and posting of existing images. Since 2018, when the Museum became involved in this project, critical work has been masterfully handled by Curatorial Assistant Sarah Williams. Please check out our collection and their images at midatlanticherbaria.org.
Despite all work being performed away from the museum since March 14, great strides have been made in getting specimens georeferenced. This term refers to the electronic pairing of the historic recorded location for each collected plant with an established system of geographic ground coordinates. In an effort to keep this project on schedule, I have spent about half my time working on it, adding over 7000 images to our Symbiota portal and georeferencing over 3800 specimens.
Screenshot of georeferencing portal for CM specimens.
With more images going up almost every day, the georeferencing problems have become easier to find and fix. In addition to being able to see the specimen and its label, it is also possible to query where the collector was on a given day. So not only can we see if the data was possibly mistyped or misread, we can also check to see if the locality is within the known range for each species collected. All this associated information makes for fun sleuthing projects. With almost half of our specimens currently georeferenced, I am also currently working on fixing problems with localities that map outside of the geopolitical unit to which they were assigned.
Screenshot of Pennsylvania locations with collections by former Botany Curator, Dr. Dorothy Pearth.
Georeferencing has become a bit of an obsession for a few of our volunteers and me because it combines history, plant collecting, and old maps into one big bundle. I must sometimes watch that I don’t go down some historical wormholes while looking for some very obscure place names. Some sets of georeferenced specimens have also added insights into the habits of some former Carnegie staff and volunteers and the haunts they liked to visit. I now know which collectors were precise in their collecting locality descriptions and which were more likely to stick to roadsides. We had at least one former curator who preferred to make localities vague when they were near parks and another who seemed to favor collecting where roads crossed streams. Fun times were had by all electronic explorers, or at least by me, and I’m learning a lot in the process.
Bonnie Isaac is the Collection Manager in the Section of Botany at Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Museum staff, volunteers, and interns are encouraged to blog about their unique experiences and knowledge gained from working at the museum.