Insect museum joins global effort to digitize 100 years of data

For centuries, scientists exploring and documenting the natural world have sent billions of specimens to museums, universities and field stations. Now, UC Berkeley and other institutions across the globe want to make that information available to the public.

But they need your help.

jewel beetles

Jewel beetles (Photo by Joyce Gross)

UC Berkeley’s Essig Museum of Entomology invites members of the public to its upcoming digital data blitz, one of the many transcription parties that will be held this week during WeDigBio — Worldwide Engagement for Digitizing Biocollections. WeDigBio is a four-day event that aims to transform the cryptic data on the labels of plant, insect, fish, and fossil specimens into an open, globally accessible, digital resource.

“Between California’s extended drought, extensive wildfires and other assaults on our environment, it is now more important than ever to understand how these pressures are changing insect communities and the ecosystem services they provide,” says local event organizer Peter Oboyski, Essig collections manager. “There is no better way to convey this message than by inviting the public behind the curtain to help us collect the data we need to document these patterns.”

The Essig Museum contains nearly 6 million specimens of insects, spiders, and their relatives, representing more than 35,000 species. These specimens also represent the past 100 years of California’s climate, terrestrial habitats and waterways in the form of distribution records of native and invasive species. “California is a biodiversity hotspot and a world leader in conservation;  research conducted at the University of California over this time span allows us to map the past and give us a glimpse of our environmental future,” says Oboyski.

WeDigBio emerged within the museum community to accelerate the rate of digital data creation about the approximately 9 million species on Earth.

This one-of-a-kind event will be held from October 22-25 at 30 locations across the globe. While the UC Berkeley event offers a social setting where people can contribute and learn about the entomology museum and local insect diversity, members of the public can contribute at anytime from anywhere during the event at one of the participating online transcription platforms. The major online transcription platforms include the U.S.-based Notes from Nature, Smithsonian Transcription Center and Symbiota; the Australia-based DigiVol; the UK-based Herbaria@Home; and the France-based Les Herbonautes.

Essig Museum ”CalBug” specimens will be available for transcriptions at www.notesfromnature.org. More information about WeDigBio event can be found at https://www.wedigbio.org.

The UC Berkeley transcription blitz will take place from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 24, in the BioScience Library of the Valley Life Science Building. More information is available on the Essig website. RSVP to essig.museum@gmail.com