SHARE

Thursday, April 23, 2015

BHL and The Field Museum rapid inventory team: joining forces for conservation action

In 1855, after an exhausting trip across the Amazon, botanist Richard Spruce reached the Escalera Mountains of northern Peru. "I am among magnificent scenery and an interesting vegetation," he wrote.

In 2013, botanist Corine Vriesendorp went back to those same mountains—still remote, still magnificent, and essentially unexplored since Spruce. "Stunningly beautiful," she wrote. "…breath-taking vistas of mountains, cliffs, waterfalls, and the Amazon lowlands."

Spruce worked out of a place that looked like this:


Vriesendorp and her colleagues worked out of a place that looked like this:


In the field Spruce spent the night in tambos like this:


Vriesendorp sheltered in places like this:


Fascinated by the dwarf vegetation on the Escalera hilltops, Spruce wrote:

"On the top of the narrow ridge of crumbling sandstone covered with a dwarf herbaceous and shrubby vegetation, it is hardly possible to walk on account of its violence."

Exploring those same hilltops, Vriesendorp observed:

"The landscape is hummocky and irregular, and covered in a thick swaying rootmat…. Walking through the landscape was difficult, with deep holes between some of the larger roots. An elfin forest… grows here, with very dense, moss-covered stems."

Why highlight these two expeditions, separated by 158 years? Because both surveys—all their text, figures, photographs, and species lists—are now available in the Biodiversity Heritage Library:

Spruce, Richard. Notes of a botanist on the Amazon and Andes. 1908. http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/bibliography/17908#/summary.
Pitman, Nigel, et al. (eds.). Perú: Cordillera Escalera-Loreto. 2014. http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/bibliography/100199#/summary.

Given BHL's rich historical holdings, no one will be surprised to hear that Spruce's book has long been a mainstay of the collection. What fewer people appreciate is that BHL is also a major supporter of modern-day efforts to explore, document, and protect biodiversity.

The 2013 expedition to the Escalera range is a great example. Since 1999, the rapid inventory program Vriesendorp runs out of the Field Museum has assembled teams of biologists and social scientists to survey 27 poorly known biological hotspots in Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Cuba, and China. These inventories drum up the biological data, social data, consensus, and momentum needed to protect threatened landscapes. Over the program's 16 years, The Field Museum has helped governments protect more than 21 million acres of the world's richest forests.

Locations of the 27 rapid inventories carried out by The Field Museum since 1999, with summary statistics showing the more than 21 million acres protected to date. Map by Jon Markel, The Field Museum.

All 26 of the rapid inventory reports—totaling more than 5,000 pages and 2,000 photographs—are now freely available for downloading and searching on BHL (Series 1: Rapid Biological Inventories; Series 2: Rapid Inventories: Biological and Social). The tens of thousands of species the team has recorded over the years have been indexed, too. That means that when someone searches for the tree Vochysia ferruginea on Encyclopedia of Life, they get a link to our 2013 Cordillera Escalera survey—as well as a link to Spruce's 1855 survey.

Getting all of The Field Museum rapid inventory reports into the Biodiversity Heritage Library is a big step forward. We couldn't help noticing, though, that a lot of our peers in conservation haven't taken the same step yet. It's time to change that. Conservation International, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, Chicago Wilderness, Morton Arboretum, and all our other friends: 

Let's see your stuff on BHL!

The Escalera Mountains of Loreto, Peru. Photo by Álvaro del Campo, The Field Museum.


Nigel Pitman, Ph.D. 
Mellon Senior Conservation Ecologist 
The Field Museum

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

BHL participates in the GBIF-CoL-EOL-BHL-BOLD Summit at Naturalis

2015.04.03-DSC00783
Jeroen Snijders, Bob Corrigan, Peter Schalk, Donald Hobern, Tom Orrell,
David Remsen, Alex Borisenko, Alex Borisenko, Martin Kalfatovic
On 13 April 2015, BHL Program Director Martin R. Kalfatovic attended the GBIF-CoL-EOL-BHL-BOLD Summit at Naturalis in Leiden, Netherlands. This meeting followed on the preceding Catalogue of Life meeting in Oostende, Belgium. The meeting took place in the historic Pesthuis on the Naturalis campus.

Other participants were:
  • Donald Hobern, Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF)
  • Peter Schalk and David Remsen, Catalogue of Life (CoL)
  • Tom Orrell, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian, Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS)
  • Bob Corrigan, Encyclopedia of Life (EOL)
  • Alex Borisenko, Barcode of Life (BOLD)
  • Jeroen Snijders, Naturalis
The purpose of the meeting was to discuss synergy and explore potential for intensifying collaboration concerning infrastructure, software tools, and services. The aims is to align strategic plans and future developments.

Jeroen Snijders, Naturalis CIO, opened the meeting with an overview of Naturalis IT structure and capacity. He also outlined recent past and upcoming EU funding opportunities.

Each of the participants then gave overviews of their programs and presented opportunities for collaboration and de-duplication of effort.

The Naturalis senior management team from collections, scientific research, and research and education joined the group for lunch.

IMG_20150403_111006326_HDR The meeting concluded with a series of action items focused on aligning programs, developing interoperable resources, and sharing services and software tools.

The successful meeting built on existing partnerships and collaborations of the participants and provided a framework for advancing shared goals.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

A New Snail Species Named in Honor of BHL!

A new land snail species from Laos has been named in honor of the Biodiversity Heritage Library!

Vargapupa biheli, named in honor of BHL. Image courtesy Dr. Barna Páll-Gergely.

Vargapupa biheli, a medium-sized, slender turriform species with a well developed basal keel, was described in the article "Revision of the Genus Pseudopomatias and its Relatives (Gastropoda: Cyclophoroidea: Pupinidae" in Zootaxa: 3937(1), 2015, by Barna Páll-Gergely, Zoltán Fehér, András Hunyadi, and Takahiro Asami.

The species is part of a newly-described genus, also articulated within this article, Vargapupa, which includes this and one other newly-described species, Vargapupa oharai, both species of which are known from the northern Annamese Mountains in Northern Vietnam and Laos.

Dr. Barna Páll-Gergely, the lead author on the paper and a Biologist in the Department of Biology at Shinshu University in Japan, uses BHL as part of his daily work and has been profiled in the past on our blog. Deeply appreciative of the services BHL provides, Páll-Gergely decided to dedicate the new species to the Biodiversity Heritage Library, writing in the Zootaxa paper:

"The new species is named after the Biodiversity Heritage Library (www.biodiversitylibrary.org) to thank the multitude of rare literature made available to us. The name “biheli” is an acronym derived from the name BIodiversity HEritage Library."

Dr. Páll-Gergely's current research focuses on the taxonomy of some land snail groups (genera and families) of East Asia. According to Páll-Gergely,

"Most species of this area were described at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries...with poor locality data, based on a few empty shells, and many of them have not been sufficiently illustrated. Therefore, whenever I want to describe new species, I have to examine the type specimens of every known species in museum collections and compare [them] with the material I have. My aim is to accumulate as many information on a particular group of snails as possible. I try to find morphological characters which help to distinguish species from each other and to categorized them into genera, tribes and families properly."
The story of Páll-Gergely's discovery of Vargapupa biheli began with the examination of a few shells of a Pseudopomatias species that his friend, András Hunyadi, collected in Vietnam. As Páll-Gergely explained:

"[András] told me they were possibly new species, so I started to compile all [available] literature about this genus. During my investigation I found a publication written by the French geologist and archaeologist Edmond Saurin (1904 -1977) in 1953 about some Laotian land snails. In the introduction, he mentioned that he collected Pseudopomatias fulvus in Laos, but no other information was written about that sample. I knew that Pseudopomatias fulvus was known from a small area in northeastern Vietnam, so the Laotian sample mentioned by Saurin was important to examine. I loaned it from the Paris museum, and when I first saw Saurin's sample, later named Vargapupa biheli, it was immediately clear that it was new to science."

According to Páll-Gergely, both new Vargapupa species differ from other members of the Pseudopomatias genus due to the presence of keels in their shells. Vargapupa biheli has a strange keel on the basal part of its shell, while Vargapupa oharai displays this and a second, lower keel. The keel is absent in the genus Pseudopomatias, thus indicating the need for a new genus: Vargapupa. External morphological and locality data is currently the only information available for these two new species; nothing is known of their behavior, diet, etc.

Left: A Pseudopomatias species without a basal keel (P. amoenus); Middle: Vargapupa oharai; Right: Vargapupa biheli. Both Vargapupa species possess a basal keel (indicated with an arrow). Image courtesy Dr. Barna Páll-Gergely.

While Páll-Gergely's confirmation of Vargapupa biheli as a new species involved an examination of a specimen labeled as Pseudopomatias fulvus, which he loaned from the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris, the story of how that specimen came to be in the museum's collection is quite a tale!

In the 1970s, Dr. Philippe Bouchet, a biologist at the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, stumbled upon four obscure articles on the Pyramidellidae (a family of microgastropods that parasitize other marine invertebrates) of Vietnam by Edmond Saurin, published between 1958-62. The articles together described 210 new species of Pyramidellidae, but the type specimens that those species were based upon were missing. Bouchet set out to track them down, and through various communications finally discovered an old address for Edmond Saurin at the Château du Roussier in France. Bouchet wrote a letter to the address, inquiring after the types and whether Saurin would be willing to deposit them at the museum. Two weeks later, he received a reply from Madame Saurin, indicating that her husband had died two years earlier and that, while she did not know where the types might be, Bouchet was welcome to visit her home and comb through the attic in search of them.

Two months later, Bouchet and a museum technician named Annie arrived at the Château du Roussier, where they were warmly greeted by Madame Saurin, who, over a glass of port, told them of her trip with her husband to Indochina in 1937 - an adventure that involved crossing the Red Sea with the infamous French adventurer and arms smuggler, Henry de Monfreid! In the 1950s, Saurin became fascinated with microsnails, and it was during this period that he collected the many specimens described in his papers. Following her tales, as Bouchet related to Páll-Gergely,

"[Madame Saurin] said, 'time is running and you would like to see if you can find the Pyramidellid types before it gets dark, wouldn't you?' She took me to the very large attic of their very large mansion. It was full of cabinets, crates and boxes, and she said she had no idea if it would be there. It was like searching for a pin in a haystack. So, I started searching cabinets with small drawers and, knowing the habits of collectors of the time, small boxes, like cigar boxes etc. In fact I found the Pyramidellid types in less than 10 minutes! Some tubes had suffered, but overall I rescued about 80% of Saurin's Pyramidellid types, and at this occasion discovered that he had also amassed land snails, which Mme Saurin was happy to donate as well to Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle. All the material was wrapped in newspaper cuts with place names scribbled in almost illegible handwriting across the print: clearly valuable scientific material but difficult to use! So we employed a Vietnamese student to curate this material, i.e. read place names, transcribe them on proper museum labels, and the result is what you have on loan."

In total within the Zootaxa article, Páll-Gergely and his co-authors describe eleven species new to science, nine of which were found in the collection of the Natural History Museum, London, and in the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, Paris. Eight of those nine were collected over a century ago, while Vargapupa biheli was collected, as described above, in the 1950s. Thus, this paper demonstrates the extreme importance of museum collections, not only for preserving known specimens but also as repositories of unknown new species. As Páll-Gergely expressed, "These century-old shells are not only important pieces for natural science, but in the same time, they are interesting pieces of human history."

Going forward, Páll-Gergely plans to continue the revision of other south-east Asian land snail genera, examining type specimens, comparing them with newly collected specimens, and finally "describing species which are the result of millions of years of evolution on Earth." Museum collections, and the historic literature contained in BHL, will continue to constitute a major part of that work.

Dr. Barna Páll-Gergely.

We at BHL are deeply humbled at Páll-Gergely's recognition of BHL's contributions through his newly-described species, Vargapupa biheli. According to Páll-Gergely, this is a well-deserved recognition:

"Simply speaking we need three main things for a taxonomy: (1) type specimens of known species deposited in museums, (2) previously not examined material, and (3) literature. BHL provided nearly all the literature we needed, because in most south-east Asian land snails groups most species were described before 1920. We may think it is natural to have old literature online, but if we didn't, we would have serious trouble finding the relevant publications. Therefore I thought BHL definitely deserves a new species named after it for the help it provided."

We are pleased to say that BHL not only hosts a vast library of life on Earth, it is now a part of that library.

Special thanks to Dr. Barna Páll-Gergely and Dr. Philippe Bouchet for their significant contributions to this post, and especially to Dr. Páll-Gergely for his recognition of BHL. The information about the discovery of Saurin's type specimens was relayed by Dr. Bouchet to Dr. Páll-Gergely and gleaned from Dr. Bouchet's book: Bouchet, P. and G. Mermet, 2008. Shells. Abbeville Press, New York. 164 pp.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

BHL Program Director presents at the Catalogue of Life Mini-symposium in Oostende

IMG_20150402_120307
Peter Schalk, Catalogue of Life
BHL Program Director Martin R. Kalfatovic attended the Catalogue of Life Mini-symposium at the Flanders Marine Institute in Oostende, Belgium on 2 April 2015. Following on the Catalogue of Life (CoL) meetings, the purpose of the mini-symposium was to present uses of the Catalogue of Life and highlight collaborations.

The opening session included an overview of the CoL from Chrstina Flann (CoL), a use case from the Botanical Garden, Meise (Henry Engeldow); and other presentations from Nicolas Bailly (Royal Museum for Central Africa & Fishbase), Danny Meirte (Herpetology Database), Leen Vandepitte (World Register of Marine Species), and Aaike De Wever (The Freshwater Animal Diversity Assessment).

The later session included a series of presentations on major programs and projects focusing on their progress and future vision. Donald Hobern spoke about the Global Biodiversity Information Faciity (GBIF), Bob Corrigan on the Encyclopedia of Life, Peter Schalk on the Catalogue of Life, and Martin Kalfatovic on the Biodiversity Heritage Library ("Looking Forward: The Biodiversity Heritage Library").


2015.04.02-DSC00764
Ferry to the Flanders Maine Institute

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Biodiversity Heritage Library Adds The Field Museum as a New Member

The Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) welcomes The Field Museum as a new member. One of the original founding institutions of BHL in 2007, The Field Museum has participated in the Biodiversity Heritage Library as an Affiliate since 2012 and now represents the consortium’s 16th Member. 

Descriptive catalogue of the lepidopterous insects contained in the Museum of the Honourable East-India Company. 1828-29. http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/37023686. Digitized for BHL by The Field Museum Library.

Founded in 1893 as the Columbian Museum of Chicago, The Field Museum has been inspiring curiosity about life on earth for more than 120 years. The Field Museum Library, founded in 1894, is committed to supporting the Museum’s mission as an educational and research institution concerned with diversity and relationships in nature and among cultures. With a collection of over 275,000 volumes of books and journals and other significant special collections of archives, manuscripts, photo archives and original natural history illustrations, the Library serves the scientific, professional, and creative needs of the Museum’s staff and research associates, volunteers, and interns, as well as visiting researchers, specialists, and scholars from around the world.

Great and small game of Africa. 1899. http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/37141656. Digitized for BHL by The Field Museum Library.

The Field Museum started contributing to the BHL collection in 2007 through a collaboration with the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. The Museum’s first contributions included over a centuries’ worth of Field Museum scientific publications and reports as well as select publications related to Hymenoptera. Since then, the Library has been digitizing missing volumes from publication runs in BHL, priority requests from users, and select collections with support from The Field Museum’s Africa Council and the CARLI Book Digitization Initiative (Consortium of Academic and Research Libraries in Illinois). Through participation in BHL at the full Member level, the Museum hopes to digitize many unique and significant titles, including rare volumes from the Library’s ornithology collection.

“Increasing access to Field Museum collections is a high institutional priority and critical to fulfilling our mission,” emphasized Christine Giannoni, Museum Librarian and Head of Library Collections at the Museum Library. “The collaborative nature of the BHL partnership allows us to effectively digitize and share our collections while fulfilling our mission.”

Onze vogels in huis en tuin. 1869-76. http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/41754973. Digitized for BHL by The Field Museum Library.

Since 2012, BHL’s consortium has operated within a tiered structure comprised of Members and Affiliates. While Affiliates can contribute content, provide technical services, and participate in select committees, participation at the full Member level allows for greater institutional impact, including the right to vote on strategic directives, help govern the BHL program, and use central digitization funds. Those participating at the Member level also commit to an annual fee that helps support BHL’s financial stability.

“We are thrilled to welcome The Field Museum – an institution that has been part of the BHL family since the very beginning – as a BHL Member,” affirmed Martin R. Kalfatovic, BHL Program Director. “As we continue to refine our strategic and operational priorities to ensure long-term sustainability, the support of our Members is central to the health of our organization and helps us achieve our mission to provide free, open, and global access to the world’s biodiversity knowledge.”

View books contributed by The Field Museum in BHL.
View images from books contributed by The Field Museum in the BHL Flickr.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

No Flippant Matter: The Re-Invention of the Flipper and Why Ceatacean Flippers Are Unique

Cetaceans are not closely related to other aquatic vertebrates and represent a unique lineage derived from hoofed land mammals that returned to an aquatic lifestyle about 50 million years ago (Thewissen, 1998). The transition from land to water, i.e. the development from weight-bearing forelimb with five hoofed toes to tissue-encased flipper not capable to support locomotion on land, is well documented by fossils (Thewissen et al., 2001, 2009) and very different from other aquatic vertebrates. Consequently many morphological characteristics that cannot be detected in fossils have remained little documented or speculative. Freed from the constraints of gravity and the developmental links to the hind legs, there is also a persistent anatomical plasticity in the flipper of modern cetaceans, showing substantial skeletal disparities sometimes even within the same population or pod (Cooper et al., 2007). Although there are a small number of morphological studies investigating the flipper in extant cetaceans, the understanding of functional morphology in this group has so far remained largely unresolved.

There are less than two dozend studies that include odontocete (toothed whales and dophins) forelimb myology (soft tissue studies). About half are classical works (Howell, 1927, 1930; Murie, 1870, 1873; Schulte and Smith, 1918; Stannius, 1849; Struthers, 1873), most of them available at BHL, and a few are more modern (Benke, 1993; Klima et al., 1980; Pilleri, 1976; Pilleri et al., 1976; Smith et al., 1976; Sokalov and Rodionov, 1974; Strickler, 1978).

Myology, deep layers, of limbs and blow hole in the long-finned pilot whale (Globicephala melas). Murie, James. "On the Organization of the Caaing Whale, Globiocephalus melas." Transactions of the Zoological Society of London. v. 8 (1872). http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/28778656.

Among mysticetes (balaeen whales) the lack of data is particularly apparent. The few accounts that include soft tissue are limited to rorquals (Benke, 1993; Carte and Macalister, 1868; Kükenthal, 1921; Perrin, 1870; Schulte, 1916; Struthers, 1888, 1889) and right whales (Kükenthal, 1922; Struthers, 1878) - except Benke all are nearly or over a century old.


Drawing of and lateral view of myology of Balaenoptera rostrata. Alexander Carte and Alexander Macalister. On the Anatomy of Balaenoptera rostrata. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. January 1, 1868(158). 201-261. http://rstl.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/158/201.full.pdf+html.

The question of how cetaceans transitioned from a weight-bearing leg to a flipper is one of considerable interest to Moyna K. Müller, a PhD student at the Geology Department, University of Otago, New Zealand.

Müller has been studying cetaceans for the past four years, with particular interest not only in the transition of the weight bearing leg to flipper (evo-devo), but also comparative muscoskeletal arrangement of the shoulder and forelimb and functional analysis of the flipper. Her research requires access to historic literature that forms the basis of her comparative analysis and provides access to data from morphological studies done in the past. Gaining access to this literature used to present a challenge for Müller, until she discovered the Biodiversity Heritage Library.

Moyna K. Müller, a PhD student at the Geology Department, Otago University, New Zealand at the Ag research centre Invermay, Mosgiel, with a neonate pygmy right whale. Photo by Cheng-Hsiu Tsai.

"[I discovered BHL] at the beginning of my studies when I couldn’t get an article and in desperation told a fellow student in our group, who then put me onto your website. Since then I felt like a kid in a lolly shop," praises Müller. "[There are] way too many things to look at distracting me from my studies."

Recently those studies have included work on the pygmy right whale, Caperea marginata, the least known and most elusive of all baleen whales. This species is only known from isolated remains, infrequent solitary strandings, and few sightings, thus sharply contrast with all other baleen whales that are known from a multitude of live observations, captures and strandings (Baker, 1985). The earliest descriptions of this cryptic whale were based on beach-cast fragments associated with a convoluted taxonomy and nomenclature only applied correctly as Caperea marginata from 1930s onwards (Beddard, 1901; Gray, 1873; Rice, 1998). The divergent external appearance and skeletal disparity of the pygmy right whale warrant hereby separation from the true right whales (Balanidae) into a discrete family (Neobalaenidae Gray 1873), separating C. marginata from all other living mysticete families (Balaenidae, Eschrichtiidae and Balaenopteridae). However, only recently has C. marginata also been associated with an otherwise extinct fossil family (Cetotheriidae) (Fordyce and Marx, 2013). It is with this family that the pygmy right whale also shares some of the most striking fatures of the postcranial skeleton, namely the shoulde blade and the ribs (Bouetel and de Muizon, 2006; Gol'din et al., 2013).

Osteology of the Pygmy Right Whale Caperea marginata. Beddard, FE. "Contribution towards a knowledge of the osteology of the pigmy whale (Neobalaena marginata)." Transactions of the Zoological Society of London. v. 16 (1901). http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/32663067.

Müller confides that, to support her work, she uses BHL "too often to count," downloading PDFs of papers, whole articles, and high resolution images from our collection. The material is invaluable to her research.

"A lot of older literature I cannot get anywhere else, and without it I would sometimes have no basis for comparative analysis or I would not be able to confirm the validity of citations by other authors," explains Müller. "This was particularly the case when working on the pygmy right whale (Caperea marginata). Apart from the pygmy right whale’s convoluted taxonomy, there are only three detailed descriptions of the shoulder musculature of any baleen whale – two of them (also the most detailed ones) are about a hundred years old (Carte and Macalister 1868 and Schulte 1916)."

When asked to describe her favorite BHL feature, Müller could not narrow it down to a single service (something we love to hear!). She not only finds it easy to locate the journals she needs but also, once she has found a title of interest, quickly determines what volumes are available. She also likes the visually-attractive images displayed throughout the website (even the "stunning fish" displayed on our "item not found" page), as well as the ‘news’, ‘today’s picks’ and ‘featured collections’ components. Finally, she was particularly complimentary of our feedback service (shout-out to Jackie Chapman, our BHL Collections Librarian who triages all of our feedback), describing it as "fast, friendly and very competent."

Moyna K. Müller labelling shoulder muscles of a juvenile pygmy right whale at the Museum of New Zealand (Te Papa). Photo by R. Ewan Fordyce.

Likewise, Müller could not name a single-favorite item in BHL. As she describes:

"The problem in my field is that there is no complete work I could use as the fundament for my own work, but rather a host of different articles that cover some aspects, e.g. osteology (van Beneden, 1880, Ostéographie des Cétacés vivant et fossils), or myology (Carte, A. and A. Macalister, 1868, On the anatomy of Balaenoptera acutorostrata or Schulte, H. v. W., 1916, Anatomy of a foetus of Balaenoptera borealis), and equally important the description of little described whales and dolphins (many articles by e.g. W. H. Flower, F. J. Knox, J. Hector, J. E. Gray in various volumes of Transactions and Proceedings of the New Zealand Institute or The Annals and Magazine of Natural History)."

Thus, the ability to retrieve all of these works and more is critical to Müller's research success. BHL makes that possible.

Finally, Müller did offer a wonderful suggestion for a way to improve BHL, particularly in relation to the many foreign works available.

"You have quite a bit of foreign literature. [It's] no problem for me to translate e.g. German or French, but it might be worth considering creating an option to upload translations, or a summary created by researchers in that field who do speak that particular language and are familiar with the terminology in their field, since a crude translation or summary is still better than none for somebody who doesn’t speak that language at all."

As we continue to explore more and more crowdsourcing opportunities within our BHL community, and investigate ways to allow our users to help us improve our collections and services, the ability to add translations, transcriptions, and annotations are just some of the features we're considering for our next interation of BHL. You can stay up to date with all of our website and service changes and improvements by following us on this blog, Twitter, and Facebook or subscribing to our newsletter. If you have suggestions for ways to improve our website or collections, please send us feedback!

Thank you, Moyna, for taking the time to explain how BHL is useful to you in your daily work! Do you use BHL to support your work? Want to tell us about it? Send us a message at feedback@biodiversitylibrary.org.

Click here to see cetacean sources cited, used, or otherwise useful, outlined by Moyna K. Müller

Post By:
Moyna K. Müller
PhD student at the Geology Department, Otago University, New Zealand
With Contributions From:
Grace Costantino
Outreach and Communication Manager, Biodiversity Heritage Library

Thursday, April 2, 2015

From Early Women in Science to Ultraviolet Film: Using Art to Understand Insects

Art is an integral part of scientific investigation and documentation. Before the advent of photography, illustrations were used to capture intricate species details, habitat appearance, and even behaviors such as predation. Photography gained popularity as a visual recording method within scientific publications in the late nineteenth-early twentieth centuries, over time increasing the efficiency and accuracy by which nature could be recorded.

Predation recorded via scientific illustration. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London. pt. 28 (1860). http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/12867034.

Scientific illustrations and photographs are an important part of the Biodiversity Heritage Library. They are highlighted via social media on Flickr and Pinterest and are the subject of recent projects, (including Flickr image tagging for Art of Life and our Zooniverse Science Gossip portal) aimed at improving access to and discoverability of these important scientific resources. A recent post even articulated how scientific images from BHL are inspiring modern art.

Scientific art may be presented either through final publications or within the pages of scientists' field notes. The latter often serve as the basis for more formal publication illustrations or provide details upon which authors may base their written descriptions of species or environments. In many cases, they help reveal new insights into an organism's physiology, morphology and ethology.

Entomologists Maria Sibylla Merian and Robert E. Silberglied offer excellent examples of the importance of art in scientific investigation.

The Artistic Legacy of the Mother of Entomology


Maria Sibylla Merian, born on this day (April 2) in Frankfurt in 1647, is recognized as one of the most significant contributors to the field of entomology. Raised within a family of artists, Maria developed a fascination with insects, especially moths and butterflies, at an early age. By observing and sketching the silkworms that fed on the mulberry in her yard, she discovered that the silkworms turned into moths. She soon expanded her investigations to include as many caterpillars as she could, realizing that each of them metamorphisized into various butterflies and moths.

Illustrating insect metamorphosis. Merian, Maria Sibylla. Metamorphosis insectorum surinamensium. 1705. http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/41398732.

At the age of 28, Maria published her first book of botanical illustrations in 1675, entitled Neues Blumenbuch. In 1699, she was awarded a grant by the then-governor of the Dutch colony of Suriname to travel with her daughter, Dorothea, to South America to explore and illustrate local animals and plants. She spent two years traveling around Suriname, including what later became known as the French, Dutch and British Guianas, illustrating wildlife with particular attention to capturing insect metamorphosis. In 1705 she published her work in Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium with 60 plates depicting the full life cycle of many Suriname insects.

Maria's illustrations were important and revolutionary for a number of reasons. The observations and evidence they displayed helped overturn the prevailing theory of the time that insects spontaneously generated from mud. Additionally, Maria drew her subjects from life in their natural environments. Most naturalists of the day illustrated species from dead, preserved specimens, which contributed to a lack of knowledge about the true life cycle and origin of insects. Finally, Maria also portrayed the host plant for the species she studied and even illustrated the damage the insects left on the plants.

Illustration depicting insect metamorphosis and damage left on plants by insects. Merian, Maria Sibylla. Metamorphosis insectorum surinamensium. 1705. http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/41398694.

Sadly, Maria's Suriname expedition was cut short by an illness that forced her to return to the Dutch Republic. In 1715 she suffered a stroke which left her partially paralyzed and affected her ability to work. She died two years later in 1717 and was listed in a local registry as a pauper.

While Maria's sex and lack of formal education resulted in her work largely fading into obscurity for many centuries after her death, she was rediscovered in the twentieth century, and today we properly recognize her significant contributions to science and how art enabled her to reveal new truths about the natural world. You can learn more about Maria in our Early Women in Science exhibit.

A Picture's Worth a Thousand Words (or field entries...) 


Several centuries after Maria's lifetime, entomologist Robert E. Silberglied was making his own discoveries about butterflies using another artistic medium: photography.

Portrait of Robert E. Silberglied, circa 1975. RU 007316, Box 16, folder 7. SIA2012-7932.

Silberglied was educated at Cornell University and Harvard University, and he began his professional career upon his appointment in 1973 as Assistant Professor of Biology at Harvard University and Assistant Curator of Lepidoptera at the Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ). In 1976, he accepted an additional appointment as a biologist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), spending half the year in Cambridge and the other half in the American tropics.

Silberglied's work was chiefly focused on Lepidoptera, and he was especially interested in insect vision, ultraviolet reflectance in butterflies, and courtship, mating and reproductive behavior. As a previous post by Emily Hunter from The Field Book Project describes, photography was an integral part of Silberglied's investigations into these topics. He used photographs to capture transient butterfly behaviors such as courtship displays, which allowed him to study the activities in more detail. But perhaps more revolutionary than this, he used photography to "see what a butterfly sees."

Photograph of Anartia jatrophae (Nymphalidae) in the midst of expanding its wings after exiting the pupa, the remains of which can be seen next to the butterfly. Robert E. Silberglied, undated (circa 1970s). SIA RU7316, Box 17, Folder 5. SIA2012-7947.

Butterflies are able to see ultraviolet patterns invisible to the human eye. These patterns, as Emily Hunter describes, "assist butterflies with camouflage, finding nectar in a flower, communicating, and attracting a mate." A small field book from 1972, Costa Rica, describes Silberglied's methodology for capturing these UV patterns, which included two 35mm lenses attached to 16mm motion picture cameras (one recording color film, the other recording UV). This technique allowed Silberglied to "translat[e] the invisible UV patterns to human visible images." Learn more in Silberglied's article about the subject. Silberglied's field materials include a host of photographs capturing minute details, including a fascinating picture of butterfly wing patterns.

Photograph depicting a magnified butterfly wing, undated, by Robert Silberglied. SIA RU7316, Box 16, Folder 15. SIA2012-7946.

Sadly, Robert E. Silberglied was killed in 1982 (at the age of 36) in the Air Florida plane crash. His use of an artistic medium to uncover knowledge about butterflies was revolutionary and inspirational. As Ms. Hunter ponders, "who knows what he would have accomplished today with the abundance of new imaging technologies, as well as advances in sound recording, molecular techniques, and sophisticated methods of tracking individual butterflies."

You can view Robert E. Silberglied's field notes in BHL, digitized by The Field Book Project.

Maria Sibylla Merian and Robert E. Silberglied used art to capture important data and discover new truths about insect behavior and life cycles. These two incredible individuals illustrate the powerfully impactful intersection between art and science and demonstrate how the convergence of distinct disciplines can open new doors, overturn false notions, and excite a whole new era of scientific discovery.

Grace Costantino
Outreach and Communication Manager, Biodiversity Heritage Library