Capturing California’s Flowers: Using digital images to investigate phenological change in a biodiversity hotspot
California has the most diverse native flora of any state in the U.S., with ~7,400 terminal taxa. The state is considered a biodiversity hotspot, largely due to its high species diversity, high endemism, and major threats. Habitat destruction and fragmentation, urban sprawl, and exploitation of natural resources are among the leading threats impacting California’s native flora. Moreover, anthropogenic climate change has the potential to exacerbate these threats to an already imperiled flora.
The digitization of herbarium specimens has advanced our knowledge of organismal response to changing conditions. However, when a digital record consists only of taxon name, date, and location, we are limited in the types of research questions that we can address. While label data can be used to address changes in species distributions, high-resolution images of herbarium specimens add a rich source of additional information regarding plant health, reproductive condition, and morphology.
The California Phenology Thematic Collections Network (CAP-TCN) is a collaborative project funded by the National Science Foundation through the Advancing Digitization of Biodiversity Collections (ADBC) program. The CAP-TCN currently includes 22 California universities, research stations, natural history collections, and botanical gardens to capture images and data of nearly 1 million herbarium specimens. This project uniquely aims to capture phenological data: information about the timing of flowering and fruiting of California’s native plant species.
In this project, the RSA Herbarium is tasked with imaging 100,000 specimens of target taxa over the first three years of the project and to database 20,000 specimens. To date, 50% and 77% of project specimens have been imaged and databased, respectively. Part of RSA’s tasks also included imaging the herbaria of Anza Borrego State Park (6,000 specimens) and California State University, San Bernardino (4,000 specimens). Imaging for both herbaria were completed in 2019.
Integral to the project are the activities that involve student participation, which forms about 90% of the workforce. The project has provided training in the form of internships for four undergraduate students from colleges and universities in Southern California. Additionally, through coordinated efforts with faculty at California Polytechnic University, Pomona (CPP), undergraduates have been barcoding specimens as a first step of the digitization process. Since the project started, more than 80 students have barcoded over12,000 specimens. More information about the Capturing California Flowers Project can be found here: https://www.capturingcaliforniasflowers.org
Enhancing the SoRo TCN with collections of taxonomic, geographic, and historic significance from the California Botanic Garden Herbarium
Montane regions play important roles in the diversification of continental floras and have been implicated in shaping distribution patterns and regional diversity in western North America. Species richness and high levels of endemism in montane regions, notably, the Southern Rocky Mountains, have often been ascribed to topographic complexity, edaphic diversity, and habitat heterogeneity, which contribute to population subdivision, geographic isolation, and increased opportunities for diversification The Southern Rocky Mountain Region (SoRo) supports a rich and fragile flora of diverse habitats and narrow ecological niches derived from unique geographic origins and evolutionary histories.
The RSA Herbarium has a unique, data-rich, and curated but currently inaccessible collection of 60,700 vascular plant specimens from the SoRo region, the digitization of which tailors seamlessly with the ongoing Digitization Thematic Collections Network (TCN): Using Herbarium Data to Document Plant Niches in the High Peaks and High Plains of the Southern Rockies – Past, Present, and Future. Awarded in September 2019 by the National Science Foundation, this project will be instrumental to enhancing the TCN and enable researchers to examine contemporary patterns of distribution, identify signatures of diversification, predict future environmental change, and help to mitigate negative impacts of climate change and habitat alteration. Digitization includes 30,960 specimens especially noteworthy for their relevance to science, collector, and taxonomy.
Graduate students at CalBG and undergraduate interns from local institutions are heavily involved in all aspects of digitization. To date, graduate students and interns have databased, imaged, and georeferenced 35%, 30%, and 10% of the total specimens in the project, respectively. More information about this project can be found here: http://www.soroherbaria.org/portal/