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Connecting Collections and Ecology

iDigBio continued its 4-year presence at the Ecological Society of America (ESA) conference this year from 5-10 August 2017. Since our first year attending this conference in 2014, with just a booth in the exhibitor hall, we have increased our involvement and deepened our connections. The booth has remained a staple of our efforts every year, and in 2015, we also hosted an Ignite session with a line-up of talented presenters who gave 5-minute lightning talks on their collections-based research. In 2016, we organized a full symposium on collections use in ecological research in which speakers presented on their creative and timely research. This year, we led a day-long Field-to-Collections Bioblitz field trip to beautiful Forest Park, just a quick ride from downtown Portland. Katelin Pearson (Florida State University, iDigBio) expertly handled field trip planning and logistics and set us up for a multi-part day of collecting and ecology. We spent the morning identifying organisms and collecting insects and plants in disturbed (along a power line clearing) and relatively undisturbed (deeper in the forest) sites. Katja Seltmann (University of California Santa Barbara – Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration (CCBER) demonstrated best practices for collecting insects in the field and participants then had a chance to collect using sweep nets and an aspirator. Katie demonstrated best practices for plant collecting and guided participants in collecting representative species from each of the study sites. Insect and plant collecting was focused on common species and we shared photos on our iNaturalist project of additional species. Deb Paul (iDigBio) and Libby Ellwood (Florida State University, iDigBio) provided information about iNaturalist, collections digitization efforts, and work that is being done to bridge the collections and ecological communities, such as ICER (Integrating Collections and Ecological Research). Insect specimens were brought to CCBER and plant specimens to the Robert K. Godfrey Herbarium at Florida State University for identification and accessioning. In the afternoon, we visited the Hoyt Arboretum Herbarium, located adjacent to Forest Park, where Mandy Tu, the Hoyt Arboretum plant taxonomist and herbarium curator, taught the group about their plant collection (shown at right) and their rare and endangered plant conservation activities, and demonstrated herbarium specimen mounting techniques. Next, we toured the scenic arboretum and saw several of their 63 IUCN globally endangered species. Katja rounded the day with a captivating demonstration on pinning insects.

Early survey responses indicate that participants had a fun, educational experience. Most began the day having had experience collecting either plants or insects in the past and were excited to learn collection and preservation techniques for new taxa. We were curious to learn how to better bridge the collections and ecology communities and when asked why more ecologists don’t use collections data in their research, participants thoughtfully responded that “the meta data with the collections is limited to asking only a few questions” and stated “different research direction[s] and aims”. Lack of institutional support and research funding were provided as responses to the follow-up question which asked about the challenges or obstacles to using collections data. There is clear interest in integrating collections data and ecological research and to continue these conversations we took to the booth for the rest of the week.

Katie, Deb, and Libby spent the rest of the week in the iDigBio booth where over 140 ecologists stopped to chat with us about their research, ways they could or do use collections data in their research and the courses they teach, and to learn about iDigBio offerings. We were impressed by the research diversity of ESA registrants – everything from soil crusts to pollinators, paleontology to earthworms, and turtles to kit foxes – and their enthusiasm for collections. Several also mentioned personal collections of theirs that they’d like to properly curate and donate to institutional collections. In addition to showing off the iDigBio portal, many attendees were interested in educational resources so we talked to them about WeDigBio, showed them the Libraries of Life cards (always a crowd pleaser!), and introduced them to the Biodiversity Literacy in Undergraduate Education (BLUE) project.

ESA 2018 will be held August 5-10 at Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans, Louisiana. We hope to be there again to continue connecting collections and ecology.

Special thanks to Shelley James for help organizing the field trip.

This blog post is also available at iDigBio.

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