Dusting off the spatial data hidden in museum collections
This installment of Spatial Reserves is authored by: Shelley James and Molly Phillips. iDigBio, Florida Museum of Natural History. We thank these authors very much for their contribution!
If you’ve ever had a need to document where a plant or animal species occurs today, or 100 years ago, perhaps the 1 billion biological specimens housed in natural history collections across the USA, and 5 billion around the world can help! Each of these specimens imparts knowledge about their existence in time at a specific location. Fish, fossils, birds, skeletons, mushrooms, skins – all with a date and location of collection. The data, found on the labels attached to the specimens, in field notebooks and catalogues, is being transcribed by museum professionals and citizen scientists alike, revealing information about the world’s living organisms dating back to the 1600’s, some with very accurate spatial data, others much less so depending on the geographic knowledge of the collector at the time. iDigBio – Integrated Digitized Biocollections – a project supported by the US National Science Foundation – is collaborating with biological collections across the globe to help combine and mobilize voucher specimen data for research, education, and environmental management uses.
All of this biodiversity data is in a format known as Darwin Core, a standardized set of descriptors enabling biological data from different sources to be combined, indexed, and shared. The iDigBio data Portal allows open access to this aggregated data, allowing filtering for types of organisms, a spatial region using latitude-longitude co-ordinates, polygons or place descriptions, and many other options. The data is delivered dynamically, and can be downloaded for use. Currently about 50% of the biological records in iDigBio (over 30 million records) have a geopoint and error, and georeferencing is something the collections community continues to work on in order to improve this valuable dataset. Any tools or improvements to data the geospatial community can provide would be a great help as iDigBio expands beyond 65 million specimen records, and we invite you to join the conversation by participating in the iDigBio Georeferencing Working Group.
Pigeons and doves from around the world. The iDigBio Portal maps the distribution of species and provides specimen record details “on the fly” as filters are applied by the user. The dataset can be downloaded, or data can be accessed through the iDigBio API.