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.

The Macrofungi Collection Consortium project, led 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. Spearheading the project is associate curator and principal investigator Tim James along with project manager Matthew Foltz. After two-and-a-half years, their efforts have resulted in the 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).

An image of three of the images taken in different stages of the project. Going from left to right we have 1) The collection box top and interior labels; 2) The index note card with detailed descriptions; and 3) The drawing of the fruiting sttructure.
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.

An example of how this project has been a benefit to the research community recently took place with the use of 274 of the Herbarium's Michigan macrofungi records in the 2013 paper "Predicting species specific responses of fungi to climatic variation using historical records," published in Global Change Biology. First author Dr. Jeffrey M. Diez at the University of California, Riverside (and a former postdoc in the lab of Univeristy of Michigan Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department of Professor Inéz Ibáñez), along with James, Ibáñez and Marshall McMunn at the University of California, Davis, 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.

In a time where we are facing issues of global climate change, documenting bio-diversity is becoming an issue of increasing importance. Digitizing and databasing the univeristies Herbarium collections is a valuable step in this effort.

Background about this and other digitizing projects at the Herbarium

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.