At the iDigBio Summit IV, Gainsville, Florida

Wednesday, November 12, 2014
Robin Abraham

Rafe, Robin and Matt at iDigBio Summit 

The Integrated Digitized Biocollections (iDigBio; https://www.idigbio.org/) is the national resource for digitization of vouchered natural history collections and was established by the community strategic plan for the Network Integrated Biocollections Alliance (NIBA). iDigBio is supported through funds from the NSF’s Advancing Digitization of Biodiversity Collections (ADBC) program. The vision of the ADBC is a permanent database of digitized information from all biological collections in the United States. It is anticipated that this effort will lead to new discoveries through research, a better understanding and appreciation of biodiversity through improved education and outreach, and subsequent improved environmental and economic policies. Key partners in this effort are the Thematic Collections Networks (TCNs), which form a national grid of institutions that are digitizing specimens and associated resources. Within this context, animal vocalizations (like that of birds and anurans) and electrical signals (such as by fishes), which also form vital specimen-associated resources for research, are currently being digitized and archived by the Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (http://macaulaylibrary.org/) and other institutions around the country. Avian and anuran calls recorded by researchers at KU have been being digitized and contributed to this repository, with a substantial part of the collection already accessible to the public. 

Exhibit at the Florida Museum of Natural History

The 2 day iDigBio IV summit, which was held in Gainsville between October 27–28, 2014 saw Rafe and I, along with Matthew Medler (who represented Mike Webster, Director of the Macaulay Library) as the attending members of the fledgling TCN devoted to digitizing animal vocalizations and electric signals. Eighty-four on-site attendees and nine remote attendees from TCNs, iDigBio, NSF, USGS and other biodiversity informatics initiatives convened for the summit. A series of brief presentations and demonstrations were made by representatives of the various TCNs and Matthew made a presentation of the basic components of our TCN and the progress made so far. One of the more inspired demonstrations was that of John La Salle, who showcased the Atlas of Living Australia portal (http://www.ala.org.au/), which was supported by a $45 million investment by the Australian Government. I guess I would be very inspired too, had I had that kind of money backing me. Another interesting demo was that of augmented reality for public outreach, education and research purposes, where digitized 3D images of specimens can be viewed through a device such as a mobile phone, iPad, or a desktop webcam; the following video illustrates the point: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=STc8Nsx36MI. Following the talks and demos, we then spread out between a set of four breakout discussion groups. The afternoon saw a poster session that was offered in a unique format, where posters were displayed on 55-inch high-definition flat screen televisions instead of the traditional posters printed on paper. The day culminated in a reception at the Florida Museum of Natural History at Powell Hall on the University of Florida campus, where a sensational Megalodon exhibition had just opened to the public. Overall, the Summit offered valuable insight into the ongoing multi-dimensional digitization and archival processes and the efforts to make them openly accessible, along with networking opportunities in this respect.

A few interesting webpages that were highlighted at the Summit:

  1. The Society For The Preservation of Natural History Collections: http://www.spnhc.org/
  2.  Digital Morphology library: http://www.digimorph.org/
  3.  Photosynth, a software application that analyzes digital photographs and generates a three-dimensional model of the photos and a point cloud of a photographed object: https://photosynth.net/preview/