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A pilot for discovering plant diversity

Posted by John Jackson on Jan 23, 2015 12:22:03 PM

Kew and the Natural History Museum are working together on large scale digitisation of their plant collections - #digitalherbarium #Kew #NHM

 

 

Trolleys containing green boxes.

 

Packing specimens at Kew. Kew is sending 41,000 specimens.

 

Plants preserved as herbarium specimens provide the evidence of what plants there are, where they grow and when they were collected. They provide the basis for modelling plant distribution over time, act as evidence that ensures plants are named consistently, and are a source of material for analyses of anatomy, disease and disease control, biochemistry and evolutionary relationships. Together, the herbaria at Kew and the Natural History Museum, London, contain more than 12 million specimens and are consulted by many visitors from around the world. Much of the information that these researchers need is stored away in cupboards, and is therefore not discoverable until a scientist visits the institution and looks inside. By providing images and data from these specimens online, anyone interested in plant diversity, for research or just for interest, can discover what our institutions hold and then access the information they need.

 

Recently some large European herbaria such as the Muséum National D’Histoire Naturelle in Paris and Naturalis in The Netherlands have had digital images made of their entire collections in order to make both specimen images and data about each collection available. Kew and the Natural History Museum have been working closely with Picturae, the company involved in the digitisation of the Naturalis herbarium, to develop cooperative workflows to make digital images and capture data from part of the two institutions’ collections.


packing.jpg
Jacek Wajer and Jonathan Gregson selecting specimens for packing at the Natural History Museum

 

We are embarking on the first stage of this adventure starting the last week of January. This first stage is a pilot to refine workflows and to gather information so we can plan larger scale projects in the future. We are focusing our efforts on several groups of economic plants, the genus Solanum (potatoes, tomatoes and aubergines), the St. John’s Worts (Hypericum) and the family Dioscoreaceae (yams). In all, approximately 70,000 specimens will be digitised using Picturae’s ‘digistreet’ methods. A ‘digistreet’ is essentially a purpose-built conveyor belt system that minimises manual handling of fragile herbarium specimens and captures high resolution images of each. After quality control and checking at both Picturae and the respective institutions, detailed information on where and when each plant was collected will be transcribed from the labels on the specimens by a team in Suriname.


Our objectives for this pilot phase are:


  • Image all Kew’s and NHM’s selected pilot herbarium specimens to an agreed common standard
  • Transcribe all the label collection data from these specimens to an agreed standard.
  • Incorporate all of the images and data into the institutions’ specimen catalogues to make them discoverable on-line.
  • Work together to refine accurate costing of mass digitisation using Picturae’s methods and develop joint workflows that will facilitate future work involving more partners across the UK.

 

This important pilot will lay the foundation for future collaborative work, with the eventual goal of providing access to the rich botanical collections held in UK institutions. We will share the results of our pilot with other institutions to help increase access to the wealth of information on global plant diversity held within the UK and to maximise the scientific and conservation impact of data held in plant collections worldwide. We hope that others will want to join in on this adventure!


picturae.jpg

The Picturae conveyor belt imaging system in Amsterdam.

 

 

The pilot began on the 19th of January with material being sent to Picturae in the Netherlands. We will be tweeting and blogging on the progress of the project as the specimens are shipped, imaged and transcribed - follow us on Twitter using the hashtags  #digitalherbarium #Kew #NHM

 

 

Find out more:

Picturae Digistreet

Natural History Museum: Digital Museum

Kew Herbarium

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