Margaret Oliver, collections manager at the UT Herbarium, wrote a piece for the Tennessee Conservationist about a collaboration between a printmaking class here at UT and the Herbarium. Read Margaret’s piece here: https://eeb.utk.edu/wp-content/uploads/2023/10/The-Tennessee-Conservationist-_-Sept_Oct-2023_TENN_HerbariumArt.pdf
Across the planet’s terrestrial surface lives a layer of organisms that cannot be seen with the naked eye. Lichens and bryophytes are hosts to these cryptobiotic communities that play a critical role in stabilizing soil, preventing erosion, absorbing rainfall, and providing nutrients for the growing plants around them. This hidden life creates a critical miniature forest that serves as an important habitat for tiny animals and forms a “living skin” found throughout the world, from canyon deserts to polar icecaps.
Jessica Budke, director of the UT Herbarium (TENN) and her colleagues from 25 institutions across the United States received a grant from the National Science Foundation to image and digitize associated metadata for close to 1.2 million lichen and bryophyte specimens housed in their collections.
“Natural history collections are a physical record of our planet’s biodiversity across space and time,” said Budke, who is also an assistant professor in the UT Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. “These specimens not only serve as records of the past, but they are a critical resource for our future. They help us to answer important questions surrounding invasive species, conservation biology, and help us to describe species that are new to science.”
The project, Building a Global Consortium of Bryophytes and Lichens: Keystones of Cryptobiotic Communities (GLOBAL), will enable researchers from around the world to access specimen metadata and photos of the plants. Budke is the lead principal investigator for the project.
“For the first time we will be taking photos not just of the label information, but also the physical organisms, which will enable researchers to digitally peek inside the packet to collect data from these specimens remotely,” Budke said. “The more data about these specimens that is available online enables researchers to expand the scope and impact of their research questions.”
The UT Herbarium is one of the largest plant natural history collections in the southeast with more than 640,000 specimens, including more than 180,000 mosses and lichens.
“Digitization is a game changer,” said Eric Tepe, curator of the Margaret H. Fulford Herbarium at the University of Cincinnati, one of the institutions involved in the project. “For centuries, natural history collections have been locked up in museums, available only to a handful of visitors. Large-scale digitization efforts, like this project, open the museum doors to the world, making specimen data and, in many cases, images freely available to everyone.”
Researchers with the project will partner with Zooniverse, a citizen science web portal, to develop an online platform for citizen scientists to make observations on character traits that can improve the information and fill in some of the gaps not covered by the scientific labeling process.
These integrated data will form a critical resource for evolutionary and ecological studies that researchers hope will lead to a deeper understanding of the role bryophytes and lichens play in carbon and nitrogen cycling, the evolution of biodiversity, and more.
In addition to collecting information about the specimens, undergraduate students at the partner institutions will have an opportunity to receive funding for professional training in image capture and processing, digitization, and collections management. Researchers will leverage local resources to promote underrepresented students in STEM fields and integrate a public outreach component to K-12 science classes and other science youth groups.
“This project represents a collaborative effort of 25 major research institutions,” Budke said. “It will push the field of organismal biology forward by leaps and bounds, enabling us to tackle large-scale biology questions that none of us could answer alone.”
- Academy of Natural Sciences
- Arizona State University
- Brigham Young University
- Duke University
- Louisiana State University
- Miami University
- Michigan State University
- Missouri Botanical Garden
- New York Botanical Garden
- Ohio State University
- Oregon State University
- The Field Museum
- University of Alaska
- University of California, Berkeley
- University of Cincinnati
- University of Colorado
- University of Florida
- University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign/Illinois Natural History Survey
- University of Michigan
- University of Minnesota
- University of Nebraska State Museum
- University of Tennessee, Knoxville
- University of Washington
- University of Wisconsin
- Yale University
Jessica Budke, an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and director of UT’s Herbarium, published a paper titled “Evolution of Perine Morphology in the Thelypteridaceae” in the International Journal of Plant Sciences, that looks at the dispersal of fern spores.
Researchers focused their study on Thelypteridaceae, a family of ferns that includes more than 1,000 species. Their research focused on spore ornamentation, or shapes and structural characteristics of the outside of the spores.
Researchers then used different spores from across the family to better understand relationships between the species, using a technique called ancestral character state reconstruction.
“We used a lot of molecular data to build a phylogenetic tree, and then mapped on the spore characteristics onto the tree,” Budke said. “By mapping them on the tree, we can look at the evolution of those features.”
The study used resources like the UT Herbarium, a repository of native and naturalized plants and fungi of Tennessee, for dried samples of previously collected ferns.
“We have more than 600,000 plant specimens on campus,” she said. “It saves time and money and resources because you’re not having to run around collecting everything.”
Other coauthors on the paper include University of Connecticut post-doctoral research assistant Nikisha Patel, University of Vermont graduate student Susan Fawcett, and University of Vermont research assistant professor Michael Sundue.
-By Kelly Alley
The EEB Collections Committee is pleased to announce the following three awards from the Hesler Fund to support and enhance herbarium-based research at UTK. Please share these award announcements with any students, colleagues, and collaborators who might be interested in applying.
Student Research Awards – http://tenn.bio.utk.edu/HeslerInternalFacultyAwards.pdf
Awards are available for research in the areas of systematics, ecology, biogeography, conservation, and biodiversity of plants and fungi to undergraduate and graduate (Masters and Ph.D.) students currently working under the supervision of a faculty member affiliated with the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Tennessee – Knoxville. Projects must be herbarium-based, either using or vouchering herbarium specimens or analyzing herbarium specimen data. This includes but not limited to, taxonomic revisions using herbarium specimens, phylogenetic analyses using data from herbarium specimens, ecological studies that will result in vouchers deposited in the TENN herbarium, and biogeographic studies using spatial data from herbarium specimens. A maximum of four Undergraduate (up to $1000 each) and six Graduate Student awards (up to $2000 each) will be given out in the 2018 competition.
Visiting Scholar Fellowships – http://tenn.bio.utk.edu/HeslerVisitingResearcherAward.pdf
Visiting Scholar Fellowships provide opportunities for scientists to use the collections at the University of Tennessee Herbarium (TENN) to enhance and facilitate a biodiversity-focused research project in collaboration with an EEB-affiliated faculty sponsor. Graduate students, postdoctoral scholars, faculty, and independent researchers from any country are eligible to apply. Funds are for travel, housing, and other visit-related expenses while conducting research at the TENN Herbarium. A maximum of two awards ($3000-$5000 each) will be given out annually.
Internal Faculty Awards – http://tenn.bio.utk.edu/HeslerStudentAwards.pdf
Internal Faculty Awards are available to support activities that directly result in improvements to the TENN herbarium. Possible uses include funding of student workers to database specimens, costs associated with improving collections management, and validation of species designations using DNA or other procedures. One to two awards will be granted annually for a period of one year for a maximum of $5000.
If you have any questions about these awards, including the fit of your proposal for the award, please contact Jessica Budke <email@example.com>.
Asst. Prof. Jessica Budke will be sharing her vision for the UT Herbarium with the wider Knoxville community at the UT Science Forum:
The talk will be 12-1pm on Friday, September 30, 2016, in the Thompson-Boling Arena Café.