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Local University Joins Global 4-day Effort to Digitize Centuries of Data About Life on Earth

For centuries, scientists have explored and documented the natural  world, collecting the billions of specimens housed in museums, universities, and field  stations worldwide.  And now, the University of Tennessee and other institutions across the globe want to  help make that information available to the general public. 

But they need your help. 

The University of Tennessee Herbarium invites members of the public to  one of the many virtual transcription parties that will be held next week during the Worldwide  Engagement for Digitizing Biocollections (WeDigBio) Event.  The WeDigBio Event will transform the often handwritten or typewritten data sequestered on the labels of plant, insect, fish, and fossil specimens into an open, globally accessible, digital resource with the  help of the public. 

“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 University of Tennessee Herbarium (TENN) is a member of The GLOBAL Bryophyte & Lichen Thematic Collections Network (TCN). This collaboration of 25 universities, museums, and botanical gardens located across the United States is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) with the goal of digitizing almost 1.2 million bryophyte (moss) and lichen specimens. It is the first large scale project to image physical specimens in addition to labels and focuses on specimens collected outside of North America. These specimens document the distribution and natural variation of species that form the basis for important ecological communities across the globe. Digitized data will be shared freely online, making these specimens available to researchers, teachers, students, and communities around the world.

The WeDigBio Event emerged within the museum community to accelerate the rate of  digital data creation about the historical what, when, and where of the perhaps 9 million  species on Earth.  It has a core leadership team that includes researchers from the  Smithsonian Institution, the Australian Museum, Florida State University, University of  Florida, and the major online transcription platforms, including the U.S.-based Smithsonian  Transcription Center, Notes from Nature, and Symbiota, the Australia-based DigiVol, the  UK-based Herbaria@Home, and the France-based Les Herbonautes.

This one-of-a-kind event will be held from October 14-17 at locations across the globe.   Members of the public can contribute at any  time from anywhere during the event at one of the participating online transcription  platforms.

More information about the GLOBAL Bryophyte & Lichen TCN WeDigBio Event can be found on the project website,

The Knoxville-based virtual transcription party will take place from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. Eastern Time on Friday, Oct. 15, and Saturday, Oct. 16. Activities will include virtual presentations and collections tours from the TENN herbarium and five of their GLOBAL partner institutions. Volunteers can register to participate here:

Jessica M. Budke, Assistant Professor & Herbarium Director
Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
University of Tennessee
(865) 974-6204