Laura Maihofer, electronic imaging technician, imaging the specimen note cards of Edwin B. Mains, who was a prominent mycologist at U-M who served as director of the Herbarium, president of the Mycological Society of America, and described many new fungi among other achievements. Image credit: Matthew Foltz.

This is the second in a series of updates on the digitization projects ongoing at the Herbarium. Watch for more in the coming weeks.

The Macrofungi Collection Consortium project, lead by the New York Botanical Garden, is an effort to increase public access to America's fungal collections. To accomplish this task, 35 herbaria and natural history museums from across the United States are digitizing approximately 1.4 million collections and transcribing data into searchable fields on an Internet database freely accessible to both researchers and the general public.

The University of Michigan Herbarium has one of the largest and most important collections of mushroom-producing fungi in the country. Professor Tim James is the principal investigator of the Herbarium’s macrofungi project. Matthew Foltz is a research lab technician and the project manager. After two-and-a-half years, we have completed digitization and initial data record creation of approximately 140,000 collections that didn't have existing records (adding to the roughly 67,000 existing records).

We have also completed digitizing over 10,000 specimen photographs, many of which correspond to collections we have stored in the Herbarium. In the coming year, we will complete digitization of  additional ancillary data such as specimen descriptions and note cards that correspond with these collections. We will also attempt to georeference the localities where the collections were made. Making these useful data digital and publicly available will allow researchers to easily access the information and address important questions of biodiversity, ecology and other areas of study.

For example, using records at the Herbarium for 274 macrofungi in Michigan, first author Dr. Jeffrey M. Diez, a former postdoc in the lab of Professor Inéz Ibáñez, along with James, Marshall McMunn, and Ibáñez showed that fall fruiting mushrooms are trending toward later fruiting in the year, which the authors hypothesize is due to global warming over the last 50 years.

Diez is currently at the University of California, Riverside, and McMunn is at the University of California, Davis. Their 2013 paper, "Predicting species-specific responses of fungi to climatic variation using historical records," was published in Global Change Biology.

Background about this Herbarium news series:

The University of Michigan Herbarium has been awarded seven National Science Foundation grants over the past four years. Six of the grants involve Thematic Collections Networks (TCN), which are collaborative projects administered by the Advancing Digitization of Biodiversity Collections (ADBC) project.  

Each TCN is a network of institutions with a strategy for digitizing information that addresses a particular research theme, according to iDigBio. Once digitized, data are easily accessed and available for other research and educational use. The nationwide effort is coordinated by the iDigBio program based at the University of Florida.

Since the first TCN project at the Herbarium (Tri-Trophic TCN) began in January 2012, over 475,000 specimens from the collection have been imaged as part of these projects.  Most of the images, either of the specimen labels or of the specimens themselves, are available online. Another aspect involves digitizing the data about the individual specimens and georeferencing localities.

Zack Boumediene, data entry specialist, parsing and transcribing useful specimen data from an image of a bryophyte specimen stored at the U-M Herbarium so that researchers can easily access and utilize the information digitally and remotely. Image credit: Matthew Foltz.