By David Baxter
The University and Jepson Herbaria (UC/JEPS) have launched a dedicated search portal for all their digitized collections. A herbarium is a scientific museum collection of preserved botanical specimens, and the Herbaria at UC Berkeley have over two million specimens spanning all taxa from all over the world. Until now, the only UC/JEPS specimen records available online were those for vascular plant specimens collected in California, as well as limited number of digitized type specimens. Now, over 560,000 records of specimens from all over the world are available through the Herbaria website (http://ucjeps.berkeley.edu/specimens/), and over 200,000 more are expected to be added over the next three years through our various digitization grants.
The portal’s advanced search capabilities allow users to search on a combination of criteria, and to view “facets” which summarize all the unique values within the results. The record “full view” contains detailed information including type status, previous determinations, and hi-res images and photographs when available. Specimens with coordinates can be mapped on-the-fly or browsed in BerkeleyMapper.
Having herbarium specimen records publicly, freely available is valuable to the scientific community. It allows taxonomic researchers from all over the world to view the Herbaria's holdings and request interesting specimens for loan for further study, and the presence of a rare plant in an area, documented by a herbarium specimen, can help strengthen a case for preservation. As we move into the realm of "big data" in biodiversity science, having large numbers of digital records available has allowed for novel methods for studying climate change and other types of modeling, including a new phylogenetic method for identifying areas of highest conservation value developed by UC/JEPS Director Brent Mishler and colleagues and recently published in Nature Communications.
The UC/JEPS search portal relies on data managed in CollectionSpace, the open source collection management system being developed, managed and hosted by Research IT at UC Berkeley in partnership with other museums. In fact, the portal demonstrates the capacity for CollectionSpace to serve as a foundation for other applications that help museums steward and share information about their collections more broadly.
And of course, having many eyes using new tools to view our records helps identify inconsistencies so we can further improve the integrity and scientific value of our digital resources.