Teaching Phase: How will the teacher present the concept or skill to students?
(1) Students watch the video “Library of Scientific Plant Samples: Step inside an Herbarium” () and answer questions in Part 1 of the worksheet (see attachments) while watching the video.
(2) Discuss Part 1 questions and these additional questions as a group:
Why are plant specimens an important resource for botanists?
A: Plant specimens are samples of life as it existed in Florida or elsewhere in the past. Every herbarium specimen tells who collected that specimen, where it was collected, and when it was collected. But it also represents a sample that can be used for genetic, isotopic, disease-load, and other types of analyses today and in the future.
How could this evidence be important to understand how ecosystems change over time?
A: Landscapes can be altered by environmental factors (erosion, flood, fire, climate change, etc.) or direct human influences (construction, pollution, etc.). These records of the past allow us to reconstruct how Florida looked a hundred years ago to compare to today.
(3) Announce that you will show them a website where anyone can search for digital specimen records of interest. This is the iDigBio Portal, which provides access to >100 million records for plants, fossils, insects, birds, mammals, and many other types of specimens that have been collected from around the world. iDigBio is the US National Resource for Advancing Digitization of Biodiversity Collections. Visit https://www.idigbio.org/portal/ and under Scientific Name enter “Pinus palustris”. Hundreds of dots, each representing one or more specimens of Longleaf Pine, will appear on a map of the Southeastern United States.
Explain to the class how Longleaf Pine habitat was once the most common habitat type in the Southeastern United States Coastal Plain, but now Longleaf Pine is the dominant species in just over 3% of that original range due to logging, conversion of land to agriculture, fire suppression, and other activities.
How can data like this be used to affect change (e.g., create policy to conserve natural places)?
A: Researchers and conservationist can marshal historical evidence to guide future management decisions. The hundreds of specimens represented on the map provide our understanding of the historical distribution of Longleaf Pine and can be used to guide our attempts to restore Longleaf Pine to its past range.
If you were a botanist studying Longleaf Pine 25 years ago (before the availability of the digital, internet-deployed, data about the specimens), what strategy might you have used to find those hundreds of specimens?
A: Prior to the creation and publishing of digital data about specimens, scientists would call or write to each herbarium to discover what specimens they contained for a species of interest. The scientist would then request a loan of those specimens from the herbarium for study. The loans would be held for months or years. Alternatively, scientists might travel to the herbarium to work as a visitor, like what you do when you visit a library. With digital data and publishers like iDigBio, many scientists can work with the specimen data and images at once and from anywhere with an internet connection. That’s a clear advantage to having the data in digital form.
(4) Have students open two websites on their computers:
Notes from Nature: https://www.notesfromnature.org/active-expeditions/Herbarium
Atlas of Florida Plants: http://florida.plantatlas.usf.edu/
Explain that Notes from Nature is a transcription platform that allows anyone worldwide to participate in the creation of digital data for biodiversity research specimens.
Students will be entering label data from five herbarium specimens from one of the WeDigFLPlants expeditions and comparing the specimen locations to already available records for that species.
Enter label data from one specimen while they watch. Explain to them any part of the process that you believe they might have immediate questions about. The fields requested on Notes from Nature can vary from project to project, but an example of a field that might require clarification is “Location.” For most current Notes from Nature projects, “Location” is the label content that would help a person relocate the population once they’ve arrived in the right county. So, county, state, and country should not be entered in “Location.” You could choose to ask them to read through the tutorial and “Need some help with this task?” content the night before.
Do a search for the species on the specimen that you just worked through at USF’s Atlas of Florida Plants. Show them where the county-level distribution map is for the species on the species page. They will do this as they create data at Notes from Nature.
*Optional* There is an information icon under each specimen image in Notes from Nature that provides existing information about the specimens and customized links to online resources about the species documented by the specimen. Students can search for the existing specimen records for the species using the iDigBio link (not part of the exercise) or use this area to copy the scientific names to be used for the Atlas of Florida Plants search (rather than typing the name).
(5) Have students complete Part 2 of the worksheet (see attachments) while they work and compare location information to what is already known about the species’ distribution at Atlas of Florida Plants.
(6) Discuss findings once completed:
Congratulations! You just contributed to science!
Did anyone transcribe a specimen that was found in a county not previously recorded as part of the species’ range in Atlas of Florida Plants?
A: [If someone found one] You found a new county record! Your data will be used to produce a more complete picture of where to find that species.
[If none found] Did any of you notice distribution maps with all but one county of the panhandle or peninsula filled in? It’s not necessarily the case that the species isn’t in that county as well. In fact, it’s not uncommon for previously “undigitized” specimens unknown to the Atlas of Florida Plants to be discovered. With each new digital record, we have the chance of building a more complete picture of where to find Florida plant species.
Who found the oldest specimen? That specimen data has not been readily available for ___ years, but you just changed that! Although it may have been studied by botanists or others visiting the collection that curates it, its data are now readily available to anyone worldwide with an internet connection.
How have the methods of gathering the data on the label changed between then and now? And how might that lead to differences in the fitness of research use for that data? It is important to evaluate the data before using it for your research or other purposes.
A: Specimen locations might have often been described less precisely (e.g., “about 5 miles south of Tallahassee”) in the absence of GPS technology. This makes it more challenging to use older collections for some uses (e.g., producing a mathematical model of the habitat needs for the species) but not others (e.g., mapping the distribution of the species at the county-level—it’s clearly collected somewhere in Leon County from that description).
How might you or others use the type of data that you just created for personal enjoyment?
A: There’s a great diversity of personal uses for the data that you just created by hikers, nature photographers, native plant gardeners, genealogists, artists, and others. For example, a nature photographer might have the goal of photographing all of the sunflower species in their Florida county of residence, and they could use the collection location information to visit a population of each of them. Or a descendant of one of the specimen collectors might be trying to reconstruct their ancestor’s collecting trips to Florida during the 1920’s. Or a student might find the specimens to be useful as primary sources for their science fair project. You now know where to find this type of information at the iDigBio portal and the Atlas of Florida Plants website.
Explain to students that what they just participated in is often called Citizen Science. Citizen Science projects broadly invite everyone to participate in the scientific process in authentic, valuable ways. Encourage the students to continue to participate in citizen science, either in this project or another. There are many online opportunities, such as others at Zooniverse (https://www.zooniverse.org/; Notes from Nature is a part of the Zooniverse), and field opportunities, such as those at the SciStarter directory (https://scistarter.com/).