It is a win/win situation to have our Botany Department volunteers being able to continue their valuable work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. They
are helping with a multi-institutional project funded by a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant, known as “Endless Forms.” The goal of the project, named in reference to Charles Darwin’s famous quote on the beauty and diversity of life, is to digitize herbarium specimens with high resolution photography, locate them geographically, capture habit and habitat information and publish them on the internet for anyone to access. The supporting locality and descriptive information for the images requires a significant effort to gather and transcribe from the specimen labels. The vast majority of this work was being done by our volunteers on site, on a daily basis, in a coordinated effort. With the temporary closing of the Gardens, that data flow stopped and the volunteers were left at home without what they considered to be an important part of their life, volunteering at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens.
With the help of Botany staff and the technology support team, we have been able to connect 15 volunteers from home to do what they were doing on site for the NSF project. In the last two weeks of March, these volunteers recorded more than one hundred hours geo-referencing the locations (adding GPS coordinates using location descriptions) of orchid specimens housed in our herbarium. We are now gearing up to add another group of at-home volunteers to continue the transcription of herbarium label data. Thanks to the imaging already done, the volunteers access the digital image of the specimen and transcribe the data into the database, all remotely.
This effort is hugely valuable for Selby Gardens. The Botany NSF project moves toward completion and the volunteers are productive and participating in an experience, which they feel, is very important to them. What would we do without them? Below are three of our volunteers, working remotely from home.
Note for herbarium specimen:
This specimen of Maxillaria lueri is an example of an herbarium orchid specimen recently digitized and transcribed by Selby Gardens volunteers for the Endless Forms project. The specimen was collected in Costa Rica by Stephen Ingram, former herbarium curator at Selby Gardens in the early 1990’s. This species was named for Selby Gardens’ co-founder, Dr. Carl Luer, by former Selby Gardens Director, Cal Dodson, from a collection he made together with Dr. Luer in Ecuador in 1977.
Written by Elizabeth Gandy, Botany Curatorial Assistant