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

The occurrence of non-indigenous organisms, and the threat they pose to the local ecological balance, are well documented. These species frequently wreak havoc on the environments they invade, and impact the corresponding economy. Aquatic plants affect property values for homeowners, sea lamprey nearly caused the collapse of the regional fishing industry, zebra mussels force shipping companies to expend millions of dollars on preventative measures and maintenance, and algae blooms drain local communities of valuable tourist dollars.

To develop conservation strategies to protect native species and restore habitat, as well as to prevent the introduction and spread of invasive species, our Great Lakes Invasives Network project is documenting the occurrence, through space and time, of aquatic non-indigenous fish, mollusk, algae and plants threatening North America's Great Lakes.

The Great Lakes Invasive Species project is a multi-institutional effort, comprising more than 20 collaborators representing Canada and the seven states with sizeable shoreline along the Great Lakes (Minn, Wis., Ill., Ind., Mich., Ohio and N.Y.). University of Wisconsin-Madison (UWM) is the lead institution. Four of the 10 largest herbaria in North America (New York Botanical Garden, Field Museum, University of Michigan and UWM), each with a collection of over 1 million specimens, are participating and serve as regional data processing centers. Primary objectives of the project include digitizing more than 1.7 million specimens, sharing these specimen images and data with the greater scientific community, and promoting the use of collections data by educators and the public.

At U-M, co-principal investigators are Tom Duda, associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, and Richard Rabeler, associate research scientist. Taehwan Lee, collections manager in the Museum of Zoology's Mollusk Division, is a participating investigator. Diego Barroso, research lab technician, is the project manager.

In the first six months of the project, we have imaged more than 32,000 plant specimens and over 4,000 mollusk lots (batches); and the imaging of fish specimens is currently underway. Another advantage of this effort involves examination of the herbarium specimens of the target genera and updating names where necessary, a task started by Rabeler as part of the tri-trophic project. Our support from the National Science Foundation runs through the end of May 2017.

Great Lakes Invasives Network website   

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.

With excerpts from the project abstract by Ken Cameron, University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Japanese knotweed. Image courtesy: U-M Herbarium