Volunteers sought to help build online database of Arctic botany

Museum of Nature tapping “citizen scientists” to help catalogue entries

Expedition Arctic Botany, a project launched by the Canadian Museum of Nature, uses an online platform so that volunteers can help catalogue the museum’s massive botanical collection in an online database. (Screen shot)

By Nunatsiaq News

Do you have some time on your hands, a computer and internet connection, and a desire to help improve the world’s understanding of Arctic plants? If so, Jennifer Doubt wants to enlist you as a citizen scientist.

Doubt, the Canadian Museum of Nature’s curator of botany, is seeking help to tackle a monumental task. The museum’s botanical collection, known as the National Herbarium, contains more than one million plant specimens, including the world’s best collection of samples from the Canadian Arctic.

But there’s a snag. Much of the collection, consisting of many metal cabinets full of old paper and flattened plants, isn’t yet catalogued in a computer database. That means you can’t, for instance, search for the name of a particular botanist and find everything he or she collected.

Doubt’s project, Expedition Arctic Botany, seeks to bring this information to researchers’ fingertips. Using a website called Zooniverse, volunteers are asked to review images of individual records from the collection and record the species name, where it was collected and who collected it. To ensure quality control, the information needs to be transcribed by five different users.

Since January, about 1,500 citizen scientists have already helped record data for tens of thousands of Arctic plant specimens.

Prior to that, Doubt and her staff and volunteers spent two years digitally scanning specimens of about 100,000 Arctic plants and 15,000 lichens, with support from the Sitka Foundation.

In an online video in which she describes the project, Doubt waxes poetic about how “the magical combination of plants and dates and places makes it possible not only to study countless aspects of plant life across the Canadian Arctic, but also to track changes in plant life through time, all while following the fascinating footsteps of some heroic or tragic or dastardly or divergent characters who walked the North with their trusty plant presses.”

According to a news release issued by the museum, “those characters include Alf Erling Porsild, the museum’s ‘reindeer’ botanist, who greatly expanded the museum’s Arctic plant collection during the 1940s; Margaret Oldenburg, an independent self-taught botanist who funded her travels in the Arctic in the 1940s and 1950s; and Sir John Rae, medical doctor and naturalist who famously searched for the lost team of Sir John Franklin in the late 1840s and early 1850s.”

There are thousands of specimens that still need to be added to the online database, which the museum says will be plenty to keep people busy over the next year. To help, visit the online Zooniverse platform.

Share This Story

(3) Comments:

  1. Posted by Cathy Welch on

    Missing from your list is my dear friend and mentor Sylvia Edlund, my personal guide to the flowering plants of the High Arctic starting in 1969 when she first stayed with us at South Camp. A very talented woman whom I miss dearly.

  2. Posted by Susan Dyer on

    I would like to volunteer for this project. I am an Alaska educator. I lived in taught in Wainwright last year and the year before. Prior to that I taught in Barrow and Metlakatla.

    I currently work for the Dillingham City School District. I am off summers and have time to volunteer.

    Susan Dyer

  3. Posted by Patrick John Webber on

    I collected many vascular plants, mosses and Lichens in 1963 and 1964 around the NW margins of the Barnes Ice Cap on Baffin Island. I was botanist to the Geographical Branch expeditions of the Canadian Department of Mines and Technical Surveys.
    The first set of herbarium specimens is at Queen’s University at Kingston (I was a student of Roland E. Beschel); and the second set went to the Canadian Museum of Nature. A third, fairly complete, set of mostly the Vasculars was also deposited in the University of Colorado Herbarium with my late friend William Weber. Erling Porsild, Ernie Brodo and Howard Crum who were at the Museum of Nature (then the National Herbarium) examined my collections and helped with some of the more difficult determinations. The sheets were well labelled. The complete list of collections is in an appendix of my PhD dissertation. The dissertation is in the Queen’s library and I have a pdf of it which I am happy to send to anyone who may be interested. In the Dissertation, I also listed previous collectors who worked on Baffin Island before me.

    In my retirement I am writing a book “Ice to Tundra”:
    Vegetation Change around the Lewis Valley, Baffin Island, Nunavut, Canada

    PJW Professor Emeritus of Plant Biology Michigan State University

Comments are closed.