The UK holds some of the world’s most important natural science collections. More than 130 million specimens have been collected from around the world and are held in over 90 institutions throughout the country.Continue reading “Releasing the power of UK collections | Digital Collections”
A Decade of Digitisation | Digital Collections
A guest blog by Pete Wing
January 2023 marks the tenth anniversary since I first started digitising the Museum’s collections. A lot has changed in that time but the main principle of digitisation has remained the same: to transform the access and use of the Museum’s collections through unlocking natural history data and sharing this with the world.Continue reading “A Decade of Digitisation | Digital Collections”
Digitising beans to feed the world
Legumes are a group of plants that include soybeans, peas, chickpeas, peanuts and lentils. They are a significant source of protein, fiber, carbohydrates, and minerals in our diet and some, like the cow pea, are drought resistant.
A new paper has been published in Biodiversity Journal about a project that the digitisation team started in 2018 with the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew (project Lead) and the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, to collectively digitise non-type herbarium material from the legume family This includes rosewood trees (Dalbergia), padauk trees (Pterocarpus) and the Phaseolinae subtribe that contains many of the beans cultivated for human and animal food.
This project was made possible through Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA)-allocated Official Development Assistance (ODA) funding, distributed by the UK government in its “global efforts to defeat poverty, tackle instability and create prosperity in developing countries”.
|African||Guinea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique, Malawi and Madagascar|
|Asian||Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal, New Guinea and India|
|Southern and Central American||Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Argentina and Brazil|
The legume groups Dalbergia, Pterocarpus and Phaseolinae were chosen for digitisation to support the development of dry beans as a sustainable and resilient crop, and to aid conservation and sustainable use of rosewood and padauk trees. Some of these beans, especially cow pea and pigeon pea, are sustainable and resilient crops, as they can be grown in poor-quality soils and are drought stress resistant (Varshney et al. 2009). This makes them particularly suitable for agricultural production where the growing of other crops would be difficult.
Digitally discoverable herbarium specimens can provide important information about the distribution of individual species, as well as highlighting which species occur naturally together. While there have been collaborative efforts between herbaria in the past, these have tended to prioritise digitisation of type specimens – as the example specimens for which a species is named, types are important to identification, but as individual specimens don’t offer insights into species distribution over time. By focusing on the non-types across the world and over the last 200 years, we have released a brand-new resource to the global scientific community.
Searching for beans
This collection was digitised by creating an inventory record for each specimen, attaching images of each herbarium sheet, and then transcribing more data and georeferencing the specimens, providing an accurate locality in space and time for their collection.
We originally had four months and three members of staff to digitise over 11,000 specimens. The Covid-19 lockdown was ironically rather lucky for this project as it enabled us to have more time to transcribe and georeference all of the records.
We were able to assign country-level data to 10,857 out of the total number of 11,222 records. We were also able to transcribe the collectors’ names from the majority of our specimen labels (10,879 out of 11,222). Only 770 out of the 2,226 individuals identified during this project collected their specimens in ODA listed countries. The highest contributors were: Richard Beddome (130 specimens), Charles Clarke (110), Hans Schlieben (98) and Nathaniel Wallich (79). The breakdown of records by ODA country can be seen in the chart below.
From our data, we can see the peak decade of collection was the 1930s, with almost half (4,583 specimens or 49,43%) collected between 1900 and 1950 (Fig. 10). This peak can be attributed to three of our most prolific collectors: Arthur Kerr, John Gossweiler and Georges Le Testu, all of whom were most active in the 1930s. The oldest specimen (BM013713473) was collected by Mark Catesby (1683-1749) in the Bahamas in 1726.
An interesting, but perhaps unsurprising, finding is that our collection is strongly male dominated. There are only two women (Caroline Whitefoord and Ynes Mexia) in the list of our top 50 plant collectors and they are not close to the most prolific collectors. We identified more women in the rest of our records, but their contribution is on average less than 25 specimens per person in the dataset consisting of more than 10,000 specimens. In contrast, the top five male collectors contributed 10% of our collection.
Both the Pterocarpus and Dalbergia genera include species that are used as expensive good quality timber that is prone to illegal logging. Many species such as Pterocarpus tinctorius are also listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. By releasing this new resource of information on all these plants from three of the biggest herbaria in the world is that we can share this date with the people who are taking care of biodiversity in these countries. The data can be used to could be used to identify hotspots, where the tree is naturally growing and protect these areas. These data would also allow much closer attention to be paid to areas that could be targets for illegal logging activity.
Pterocarpus tinctorius is a species of padauk tree that is listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List. Cowpea (Vigna unguiculata) is a food and animal feed crop grown in the semi-arid tropics.
The ODA-listed countries are economically impoverished and disproportionally prone to be disadvantaged with the changing climate whether from flood or drought or increase in temperature. Using data to identify good, nutritious plant species that can be grown in such conditions can therefore benefit local communities, potentially reducing dependence on imports, aid and on less resilient crops.
This dataset is now openly available on the Museum’s Data Portal and a paper about this work has been released in Biodiversity Journal. Stay in touch with the Digitisation team by following us on Instagram and Twitter.
How are the world’s habitats changing as the Climate warms? | Digital Collections
Scientists have found that flowering time in plants can advance as much as 3.6 days for every 1°C the climate warms, but why does this matter?Continue reading “How are the world’s habitats changing as the Climate warms? | Digital Collections”
Setting our Freshwaterflies Free | Digital Collections
A guest blog by Kate Holub-Young
Our pinned mayfly, stonefly and caddisfly specimens are groups of insects that have life cycles reliant on freshwater. Where these insects are plentiful, they are fantastic indicators of water quality.Continue reading “Setting our Freshwaterflies Free | Digital Collections”
Data in Action: British butterflies body size changes in response to climate change | Digital Collections Programme
A brand new scientific paper applies computer vision to over 125,000 of the Museum’s digitised Butterfly collection to understand how animals may respond to climate change.Continue reading “Data in Action: British butterflies body size changes in response to climate change | Digital Collections Programme”
Breaking the Bias with Grace Mary Crowfoot: Botanist, Archaeologist, and Advocate for Women’s Rights | Digital Collections Programme
A guest blog by Larissa Welton
This International Women’s Day, I want to celebrate the incredible achievements of Grace Mary Crowfoot, a botanist, textile archaeologist, anthropologist, and pioneering anti-FGM advocate and to share her story of breaking biases and fighting inequality for women.Continue reading “Breaking the Bias with Grace Mary Crowfoot: Botanist, Archaeologist, and Advocate for Women’s Rights | Digital Collections Programme”
Celebrating new discoveries on Darwin Day 2022
12th February 1832: There has been a little swell on the sea to day, & I have been very uncomfortable Charles Darwin’s diary entry on his birthday 190 years ago.
While on board the voyage of the Beagle, Charles Darwin recorded the journey and mentions notable days like Christmas day and New Year’s day, but although he records each year what he did on the 12th February, he never mentions that it was his birthday.Continue reading “Celebrating new discoveries on Darwin Day 2022”
What’s in our UK natural science collections and why does this matter? | Digital Collections Programme
A guest blog by Tara Wainwright
The UK holds hundreds of millions of natural history specimens of scientific importance. Exactly how many specimens and what those specimens are, is currently unknown. Unveiling the contents of the UK’s collections will open the door to further digitisation and unlock the full scientific potential of UK natural science collections.
Digitising, the process of converting physical information into a digital form, the UK’s natural science collection, opens up a unique and valuable national resource to the world and enable the UK to be part of current and future scientific collaborations to find solutions to the biggest challenges of our time.Continue reading “What’s in our UK natural science collections and why does this matter? | Digital Collections Programme”
The Museum at sea | Darwin Tree of Life
Adventuring to the west coast of Scotland in search of DNA
Laura Sivess, Research Assistant for the Darwin Tree of Life project, shares the experience of being on a Museum field trip.
The Natural History Museum (NHM) Darwin Tree of Life (DTOL) team recently returned from Millport, Scotland, where in just over four days we encountered over 150 species and took 266 tissue samples for whole genome sequencing!Continue reading “The Museum at sea | Darwin Tree of Life”