The Museum is on a mission to digitise 80 million specimens. We want to mobilise the collections to give the global community access to this unrivaled historical, cultural, geographical and taxonomic resource.
The Museum’s Sensational Butterflies exhibition is host to over 500 butterflies each year. Each morning, work in the Museum’s butterfly house starts two hours before the exhibition opens because it takes constant attention to maintain the ideal environment for these butterflies to flourish. One of the aspects that needs to be attended to is pest control.
One of the most significant pests that needs to be kept under control in the butterfly house are Aphids.
The UK Insect Pollinators Initiative (IPI) provided funding between 2010-2015. This was a joint initiative supported by the Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra), NERC, the Wellcome Trust and the Scottish Government, under the Living With Environmental Change (LWEC) partnership to support projects studying a wide variety of UK pollinators and their habitats.
Nine separate projects were funded and as a result of these projects around 50,000 specimens were collected.
Insects visiting flowers, including bees, hoverflies, beetles, butterflies and moths, are very important to plants. While moving between flowers they carry pollen from one flower to another.
A growing number of museums are joining open data initiatives to publish their collection databases and digital reproductions online. The Museum has operated a policy of open by-default on our digital scientific collections.
By signing the International Open Data Accord, the Museum recognises the opportunities and challenges of the data revolution and adopts a set of internationally recognised principles as our response to these.
Guest blog by Liz Duffel, Georeferencing Digitiser
Most specimens within the Museum collection have locality information, showing where the specimen was found, on the accompanying label(s). When we are digitising our specimens, we can use that locality information for georeferencing – the process used to give the locality of a specimen geographical coordinates, so that it can be plotted on a map.
This is important because it allows for mapping and modelling, which underpins research on anything from species distributions and relationships, to environmental changes or targeting conservation practices.
Natural history collections provide an enormous evidence base for scientific research on the natural world. We are working to digitise our collection and provide global, open access to this data via our Data Portal.
To digitise the collection we are developing digital capture flows that cater for a wide range of collection types. One of the applications we have developed is Inselect – a cross-platform, open source desktop PC application that automates the cropping of individual images of specimens from whole-drawer scans.
We are in the process of digitising the Museum’s parasitic louse (Phthiraptera) collection, which consists of around 73,000 microscope slides. The collection is one of the largest – and the most taxonomically comprehensive – in the world.
Lice are permanent ectoparasites, meaning they live on the outside of their bird and mammal hosts. They are highly host specific, with the majority of the ~5,000 louse species being unique to a particular host species of mammals and birds.
Our previous blog post looked at preparing the Lepidoptera for digitisation. In this post, we will look at the second part of the digitisation process; the imaging and transcription that allows data to be set free and accessed by the global science audience on the Museum’s Data Portal.
We are working to digitise more than half a million British and Irish butterflies and moths. Our three year iCollections project started in 2013, and we have received additional funding from the Cockayne Trust to continue this digitisation work to September 2017.