The National Science Foundation has awarded six grants totaling some $7.5 million to digitize biodiversity collections, a nationwide effort coordinated by the iDigBio program based at the University of Florida. Two of the grants involve collaborators in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Michigan, working at the Museum of Zoology and the Herbarium.

Richard Rabeler, associate research scientist at the U-M Herbarium, and Thomas Duda, associate professor of EEB, were awarded a three-year grant of close to $430,000 for β€œ(TCN) collaborative: documenting the occurrence through space and time of aquatic non-indigenous fish, mollusks, algae, and plants threatening North America's Great Lakes.” TCN stands for Thematic Collections Network. They are working with Dr. Kenneth Cameron, University of Wisconsin-Madison, principal investigator, and collaborators at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities; Field Museum of Natural History; University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Ohio State University; Morton Arboretum; and the New York Botanical Garden.

"The increased public awareness of invasive species (e.g, zebra mussel, water milfoil) creates an excellent opportunity to educate the public about the role that museum collections play in documenting the appearance and spread of these organisms over time," said Rabeler. β€œIn addition, receiving funding for the Great Lakes Invasives TCN is personally rewarding since I have been involved in several attempts to fund a network of herbaria in the Great Lakes region since data sharing among collections was proposed at a 2004 workshop.”

According to their abstract, one of the greatest threats to the health of North America's Great Lakes is invasion by exotic species, several of which already have had catastrophic impacts on property values, the fisheries, shipping, and tourism industries, and continue to threaten the survival of native species and wetland ecosystems. Additional species have been placed on watch lists because of their potential to become aquatic invasives. This project will create a network of herbaria and zoology museums from among the Great Lakes states to better document the occurrence of these species in space and time by imaging and providing online access to the information on the specimens of the critical organisms.

More than 25 institutions from seven states and Canada will digitize 1.73 million historical specimens representing 2,550 species of exotic fish, clams, snails, mussels, algae, plants, and their look-alikes documented to occur in the Great Lakes Basin. It is one of the first efforts to digitize liquid preserved specimens and to integrate cross-kingdom taxa and these methods could become national standards for cross taxon digitization.