Little Beetles get a Big Helping Hand from Citizen Scientists

University of Alberta Museums Seeks Help from the Crowd in Beetle Digitization Effort

08 November 2016

With over 40,000 species known world-wide, ground beetles are one of the largest animal families in the world. They also dominate in both diversity (the number of species) and abundance (the number of individuals) in the Canadian Arctic. Recent research has shown that ground beetle diversity is sensitive to several climate factors, notably temperature, precipitation, and plant height, and may serve as a useful 'indicator' of climate change. These new findings give further validation to the University of Alberta Museum's continuing efforts to share knowledge about the ground beetles housed in its E. H. Strickland Entomological Museum.

About the E. H. Strickland Entomological Museum

The E.H. Strickland Entomological Museum contains one of the world's most important collections of ground beetles thanks primarily to the work of Emeritus Curator Dr. George Ball. Over the course of his tenure at the University of Alberta (1954-92), Ball doubled the size of the collection and served as graduate supervisor to many of the world's foremost experts on beetles and other insects, including the museum's current Curator, Dr. Felix Sperling.

Data for about 174,000 ground beetle specimens from the collection has been published to publicly accessible online databases, such as Canadensys, the Global Biodiversity Information Facility and iDigBio. This represents the largest number of digitized ground beetle specimens among major entomological collections in North America. However, over 40,000 specimens remain to be digitized.

Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science

The University of Alberta Museums is now digitizing the remainder of the collection's ground beetle holdings from the Americas with the assistance of citizen scientists using the web-based Notes from Nature crowdsourcing platform.

Notes from Nature allows anyone with an internet connection to make important contributions to scientific research simply by transcribing data that appears in images of specimen labels. Volunteers are asked to record information from these images into a web form, such as the place collected and collector, and the information is then integrated into the museum's database and published online.

To get the project rolling, the University of Alberta Museums hired two keen undergraduate students in the Fall of 2015 to photograph ground beetle specimens over a 24 week period. They astonishingly processed over 20,000 specimens under the guidance of the collection's assistant curator, Danny Shpeley. Since July, more than 2,000 of these specimen images have been uploaded to Notes from Nature, and transcribed by more than 150 volunteers.

Through this effort the University of Alberta Museums will make an immense amount of ground beetle data publicly available to researchers, such as those investigating climate change. Hopefully, it will also raise awareness and garner public interest in the University of Alberta's important natural history collections.

Join the citizen scientist community and see the latest University of Alberta Museums Notes from Nature project here.