Thursday, September 18, 2014

A Crusade to Save the Golden Lion Tamarin

Post by Grace Costantino with significant contributions from Field Book Project blog post, "Field Notes from a Battle Against Extinction," by Sonoe Nakasone.

We are in the midst of Hispanic Heritage Month, an annual celebration of the "histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America." This is also an excellent opportunity to celebrate Hispanic biodiversity. We're kicking things off with a look at one of Brazil's most iconic primates, the Golden Lion Tamarin (Leontopithecus rosalia).

The Golden Lion Tamarin. Illustrated by Louis Sargent. From: Finn, Frank.
The Wild Beasts of the World. (v. 1, 1909). 

A small, endangered primate, the Golden Lion Tamarin (GLT) (also known as the Golden or Lion Marmoset) gets its name from the trademark, vivid orange "mane" surrounding its face. Don't let the "lion" part fool you, however. The tamarin averages only 10.3 inches in length and 1.37 lbs.

In the marvelous book The Wild Beasts of the World (v.1, 1909), Frank Finn, an English ornithologist, writes that the GLT is not much larger than the English squirrel, with "paws" quite unlike "ordinary" monkeys. The accompanying illustration, by Louis Sargent, is a breathtaking representation of this adorable New World Monkey.

Interestingly, Finn records that "the present species is one of the most widely-ranging of the Marmosets, being found from the Isthmus of Panama to South-eastern Brazil and New Granada." Much has changed since the early 1900s. Today, GLTs have extremely limited distribution, confined solely to Brazil, and occupying only 2-5% of their original habitat. In the 1970s, fewer than 200 GLTs remained on Earth. Thanks to conservation efforts, led largely by Dr. Devra Kleiman, who passed away in 2010, their wild population is now closer to 1,600.

The Field Book Project has cataloged a number of Kleiman's fieldbooks, many focusing on her research with the GLT. Sonoe Nakasone, who cataloged the books and published a blog post about them, noted that Kleiman's notes were quite different from those of many other researchers she had cataloged in the past, as:
Kleiman didn’t really “collect specimens”. Rather, her notes document animal behavior, activities, diet, as well as external factors affecting the livelihood of tamarins. Kleiman and her team did collect blood, skin, and fur samples, and they did capture tamarins to breed in captivity before reintroducing them into the wild, yet the fundamental purpose and method of research was distinct from traditional natural history field work.
Devra Kleiman and colleague conducting playback study. From the Field Book Project.

Kleiman's fieldbooks also document a number of her research techniques. She employed three common protocols:
Scans, focals, and playbacks. Scans and focals are systematic observations. Scans focus on all member of a group of animals; focals focus on an individual animal. Both adhere to specific lengths of time and seek specific information about behavior and activities. Playbacks involved projecting recordings of various animal vocalizations in the field. During these experiments, animal responses, if any, were documented and differences between male and female responses noted.
Nakasone also highlights some of the challenges Kleiman faced during her conservation initiatives:
On October 25, 1991, Kleiman remembers a particularly difficult visit to a corporation: “the veep [VP] we meet is very obnoxious—suggesting that people are burned out [with] ecology (mentions a t-shirt entitled “I don’t give a s--- about the GLT)”. On March 16, 1990, Kleiman notes the effects of economic instability in Brazil on the project: “they are freezing all interest-bearing overnight accounts [...]. Cecilia [Kleiman’s colleague] had $6000 WWF grant in an overnight account. It increased by $1000 interest, but now she can’t touch it.”
Yet despite these and other obstacles like deforestation, poaching, and political instability, Kleiman coordinated the Golden Lion Tamarin Conservation Program for almost 30 years and "was successful at shedding light on the issue of golden lion tamarins and helping to increase the GLT population by 800%." As Nakaone notes:
Kleiman’s field books are a refreshing and exhilarating alternative to many of her predecessor’s field books because she was a pioneer in the burgeoning field of conservation biology. Her notes reflect not only the advancement of human knowledge, but also the application of that knowledge to ensure the livelihood of species struggling for survival.
"Participants in the Front Royal Conference on Mammalian Behavior, 16-19 August 1980."
Kleiman 2nd row, 2nd from right.

Learn more about Kleiman's contributions to conservation and biodiversity sciences from the Smithsonian Archives. Explore the GLT in The Wild Beasts of the World, and learn more about the species in EOL. Read Sonoe Nakasone's full blog post and explore Kleiman's fieldbooks, cataloged by the Field Book Project

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

BHL-Australia is back!

The first published illustration of the Duck-billed Platypus, from The Naturalist's Miscellany, or Coloured figures of natural objects, Vol. 10, George Shaw, 1799.

For the past year, BHL-Australia has been very quiet. So quiet, in fact, you would be forgiven for forgetting we exist (unless of course you read about our contribution to the new BHL website).

Why the silence? Because, in 2013, we ran out of funding.

Our digitisation work didn’t stop, however. Deep in the Museum Victoria library, six dedicated volunteers (supervised by equally dedicated library staff) continued to scan and process volumes from our collections and upload them into BHL.

We are now thrilled to announce that BHL-Au is back in full force. Still led by Museum Victoria, we have renewed funding from the Atlas of Living Australia and a new enthusiastic team. And we have grand plans for BHL-Au.

These include:
  • The digitisation of non-published works in our historical collection: Gold Registers, Exhibition Catalogues, Field Diaries and the unbound sections of the Prodromus of the Zoology of Victoria
  • The continued digitisation of rare books, starting with those featured in our Art of Science exhibition.
  • The establishment and ongoing support of new BHL partners within museums and herbaria around Australia and in New Zealand. 
  • The strengthening of our existing relationships within the global BHL community. 
The books contributed by Museum Victoria can be viewed on our new Collection page on the BHL website.

Coming soon to BHL via BHL-Au: Superb Lyrebird, from An account of the English colony in New South Wales, from its first settlement in January 1788 to August 1801, David Collins, 1804.

Who are BHL-Australia?

The BHL-Au Team: (from left) Hayley Webster, Ely Wallis, Cerise Howard, Jim Healey, Nicole Kearney. Credit: Simon Sherrin, Museum Victoria.
Ely Wallis is the Manager of Online Collections at Museum Victoria, the Chair of BHL-Global and the Project Lead for BHL-Australia. Ely is a zoologist by training but now spends her time publishing the museum’s encyclopedic collections onto websites, gallery interactives and to apps.

Nicole Kearney is the Project Coordinator of BHL-Au. She is a zoologist, science communicator and professional writer/editor. She has worked at Museum Victoria since 2003, most recently on a series of field guide apps. Her position with BHL combines her professional interests with her life-long love of books.

Cerise Howard is the Digitisation Coordinator for BHL-Au. Occupying various roles at Museum Victoria connected to online publishing over the last ten years, she is also the Artistic Director of the Czech and Slovak Film Festival of Australia (CaSFFA), a writer and broadcaster on film, and a musician with a theatrical bent.

Hayley Webster is the Manager of the Museum Victoria Library. She has been involved in BHL-Au since 2011, contributing books for digitisation, providing access to the library collection, arranging for books to be treated by our Conservation department, and working with our dedicated team of volunteers.

Jim Healey has worked for the past two years as a BHL Volunteer and now joins us as the project’s Technical Support Officer. He brings to BHL over 25 years of experience working in IT, as well as a passion for photography and electronics.

The team also includes five passionate and dedicated BHL Volunteers: Bob Griffith, Heidi Griffith, Sue Halliwell, Alan Nankervis and Tiziana Tizian. All five have been with BHL-Au since February 2012.

Nicole Kearney
BHL-Au Project Coordinator

Thursday, September 11, 2014

BHL Valued by Historians

Many people tend to think of BHL as a resource for scientists. While it’s true that scientists use BHL to find species descriptions and data about earth’s flora and fauna, they are not the exclusive beneficiaries of this wealth of knowledge.

BHL contains more than half a millennia's worth of records about the discovery of life on our planet. It is valuable both for the raw data it provides and for the context and history it relates. It is not just a repository of biodiversity information. It also captures the evolution of our understanding, appreciation, and interactions with the natural world.

Dr. Paul Farber, Distinguished Professor of the History of Science at Oregon State University.

Dr. Paul Farber is a Distinguished Professor of the History of Science at Oregon State University. He has been active in his field since the 1970s, when he received his Ph.D., though his love of the subject first blossomed during his undergrad years. Recently, a colleague asked him to help prepare an 800 page manuscript on the history of nineteenth-century German biology for publication as a book.

“I had read a draft of the manuscript and thought it was absolutely brilliant. Since the person is someone to whom I feel greatly indebted, there was no question that I would do it,” recalls Dr. Farber. “When I began, I came across simple formatting issues (getting the manuscript to conform to the guidelines of the Press that had accepted it). But, then, I discovered there were MANY footnotes that were incomplete. Some of the citations were mere last names and a date. Many references were to fairly obscure journals, and all the names of the journals were just abbreviations (sometimes short versions).”

Decoding such a conundrum of bibliographic references may seem nearly impossible. But thankfully for Dr. Farber, a serendipitous Google search led him to BHL.

“The BHL was like a knight in shining armor, or the cavalry coming over the hill, to rescue me!!” lauds Farber. “I was able to go to complete runs of minor journals and hunt down many references, or use the BHL to find related works, and through their bibliographies get clues as to what I was hunting.”

Thanks to the open, digital nature of BHL, Dr. Farber was able to conduct all of his research locally. “The ability to find full runs of obscure journals makes it possible to work from the Pacific Northwest without traveling to a major library somewhere else,” explains Farber. “Without the BHL the project would have been enormously more difficult. In the future, I will use [it] to locate material and download sources that are not available to me at my university library. It will be a first stop in any future historical research!”

Whether it be a scientist cataloging new species, an artist seeking inspiration from the natural world, a policy maker crafting conversation reform, an historian lecturing in a classroom, or a curious youngster investigating local fauna for the first time, BHL provides a robust knowledge corpus that enables anyone, anywhere to explore a breadth of questions about natural history and biodiversity. 

What will you discover?

Explore BHL and our Flickr today. Connect with us on Facebook and Twitter to learn more about biodiversity and our collections.

Special Thanks to Dr. Paul Farber for providing fascinating insight on the application of BHL within the humanities. Do you have a story to tell about your experience using BHL? Tell us about it by writing to!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Exploring Arachnids with Harry Potter and Logan Pierce

If you’re a Harry Potter fan, then you know what the three unforgivable curses are. And if you’ve seen the movies, you’ll remember the scene where Mad-eye Moody demonstrates those curses in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. If you’re recalling the scene now, you’re probably thinking, “Yeah, he tortured and killed a spider.”

Amblypygid. The Royal Natural History. v. 6, sec. 11 (1896).

If that’s what you’re thinking, you’re wrong (if you managed to avoid the Harry Potter craze and have no idea what we’re talking about, just smile and nod with superiority at not being taken in by our leading comment and read on). The subject of Mad-eye’s persecution was, in fact, an Amblypygid.

Sometimes called “whip spiders,” Amblypygids are an invertebrate group belonging to Arachnida but separate from spiders. They have six walking legs, eight eyes, and claw-like, extra long pedipalps modified for grabbing prey and, if you’re a male, fertile females.

Phrynus marginemaculatus from Logan Pierce's collection. Image copyright Logan Pierce. If you would like to reuse the image, contact Logan at @xMiPHISTox or via That Arachnid Keeper for permission.

Spider or not, if you’re like Ron, an Amblypygid sighting would probably provoke shrieks of terror or mad dashes to higher ground (such as atop a trusty chair that a multi-legged critter couldn’t possibly climb…). At the very least, you’re probably not feeling very inspired to seek one out as a pet.

Arachnids (including Amblypygid species Phrynus reniformis). Haeckel, Ernst. Kunstformen der Natur (1904).
But if you're Logan Pierce, that’s exactly what you’re doing.

An arachnid enthusiast, Pierce’s love affair with these eight-legged invertebrates began at age nine, when he “picked up a book on scorpions and read it religiously.” At age fourteen, his aunt bought him his first two species (an Emperor scorpion, Pandinus imperator, and a Tarantula labeled as a Rose-Hair, Grammostola species), and he’s been collecting, rearing, and breeding hundreds of arachnids and invertebrates ever since. Today, his collection consists of over 100 specimens, representing 32 species.

When asked why he’s so captivated by arachnids, Pierce responded, “I actually have a slight fascination with their ‘strategies’ concerning prey acquisition. Another interest of mine is the way that scorpions eat their prey, with two smaller ‘claw-like’ structures called chelicerae.”

Through his profile @xMiPHISTox, Pierce recently discovered BHL on twitter thanks to a post we did on an 1841 illustration of the Amblypygid species Phrynus Ceylonicus from Sri Lanka. After engaging in a conversation with him, we learned that not only is he rearing a subadult of another Amblypygid species, Phrynus marginemaculatus, but that he maintains a Tumblr (That Arachnid Keeper) for the purposes of sharing information, care, and breeding logs for the many Arachnid species in his possession.

Amblypygi Tweet. Koch, C.L. Die Arachniden. BD. 8-10 (1841).

One of his posts reports Logan’s experience caring for, feeding, and attempting to breed the scorpion species Brachistosternus negrei. Native to Chile, this species is rarely bred successfully in the U.S. On April 18, 2013, Pierce received a shipment of 7 specimens, which he described as “very feisty…When unpacking them and taking them out of their small holding containers I exhaled through my nose, which made one go into a stinging frenzy,” he wrote.

B. negrei from Logan Pierce's collection. Image copyright Logan Pierce. If you would like to reuse the image, contact Logan at @xMiPHISTox or via That Arachnid Keeper for permission.
After sexing his brood by searching for a “Spur” within the inner side of their fixed Pedipalp finger (Spur only present in males), Logan identified 4 females and 3 males – a good ratio for breeding. He relates his two attempts to breed his specimens as follows: “They’re aggressive breeders, and do things akin to Androctonus, such as the male approaching the female, doing what I can only describe as ‘juddering’ until he gets close to the female, in which event he will subdue the female by stinging her once and lock his pedipalps to whatever he’s able to clasp. He will then move his pedipalps from appendage up to the females…lock with them…[and] slowly drag her around, looking for a suitable spot to drop a spermatophore. Females of this species seem to be very finicky, as they’ve ended all mating attempts made by my male, even though they are adults and confirmed females.”

While breeding challenges may be expected, considering it’s an advanced activity that most arachnid-owners probably won’t attempt, even basic nurturing is not without its difficulties. “If someone were to own species such as scorpions with little known information, or almost none, the most challenging part would be procuring information to set up a habitat for them,” said Pierce.

Anatomy of Amblypygi. Pocock, R.I. Arachnida (1900).

Logan is also currently grappling with sexing his subadult Amblypygid, which involves knocking the specimen out with CO2, pulling back the genital plate, and searching for a specific formation. A delicate procedure, to say the least. And you thought owning an arachnid would be as simple as feeding it a few crickets now and then…

Have we inspired you to choose an arachnid of your own to care for? If so, “Do your research before acquiring any invertebrate,” cautions Pierce. “I see so many people online throwing caution to the wind whilst purchasing species such as Leiurus quinquestriatus (Deathstalker scorpion), Androctonus australis, and many other highly dangerous species. I would also say that arachnids are generally shelf-pets, and should not be purchased with handling in mind, or with the intent of showing off to friends. Invertebrates can be stressed from excess handling (But this has been debated many times by people), or from bothering them too much. Any invertebrate purchased should be purchased with the intent of observation and possibly preservation.” Get more great insight and information from Logan on That Arachnid Keeper.

Amblypygids. Biologia-Centrali Americana (1879-1915).
If you’re not quite ready to make the leap to Arachnid caretaker, you could start by browsing some of the lovely arachnid illustrations in BHL. If you’re feeling too squeamish for that, we hope that at least this post has helped you understand the differences between spiders and Amblypygids. Just because it’s got lots of legs and eyes doesn’t mean it builds a web (…although we’re not sure how much comfort Ron will find in that).

We love the way social media allows us to connect with so many fascinating biodiversity enthusiasts, learn more about earth’s incredibly diverse flora and fauna, and share our own resources in exciting new ways. Connect with us on Twitter, Facebook, or through a blog comment to tell us about your own biodiversity and research experiences!

Grace Costantino
Outreach and Communication Manager | BHL
* Special thanks to Logan Pierce for sharing his expertise, information, and images with us!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

A Global Discussion about Martha, Extinction and Conservation

Thanks to everyone who tuned in for our #Martha100 TwitterChat with @NMNH (National Museum of Natural History) and @SILibraries (Smithsonian Libraries) yesterday! The chat was a commemoration of the death of the last passenger pigeon, Martha (died Sept. 1, 1914), and a discussion on extinction, conservation, and the importance of historic literature to these fields.

We had some fantastic questions and discussions, as well as great contributions from @fieldmuseum, @SmithsonianArch (Smithsonian Archives), @birdernewjersey (aka Rick Wright, a regular guest blogger for BHL), and @SiobhanLeachman (volunteer with the SI Transcription Center).

Over 350 people participated in the conversation, which produced over 770 tweets seen by over 1.8 million people! BHL saw a 66% increase in the reach of our tweets and a 240% increase in engagement with users on Twitter during the event as compared with our average daily reach and engagements. This translates to a 92% increase in clicks on links, a 117% increase in retweets, a 103% increase in favorites, and a 650% increase in replies. We also saw an increase in our audience, with a 422% increase in Twitter followers compared to our average daily increase.

For a quick snapshot of the conversation, take a look at some of our favorite questions and answers from the TwitterChat:

Q1: @SILibraries: Who was Martha and what is a passenger pigeon?
@NMNH: The Passenger Pigeon is an extinct North American pigeon + Martha, the last individual alive, died 9/1/1914
@SILibraries: Passenger Pigeons lived only in North America. @eol has range maps
@BioDivLibrary: Learn more about how the passenger pigeon went extinct
@SmithsonianArch: Martha was named after George Washington's wife!
@SILibraries: Some flocks were thought to contain over 2 billion birds, taking days to pass by.
@SILibraries: How did passenger pigeon get its name? From French passenger, which means to pass by.
@Fezook: Was depletion of numbers below that necessary for migration a main cause of passenger pigeon extinction?
@NMNH: essentially yes; numbers declined because of hunting + habitat loss. They were highly social, probably couldn't survive in low numbers.
@BioDivLibrary: Passenger Pigeon may have survived commercial slaughter if nesting grounds not destroyed too

Mark Catesby's 1754 illustration of the Passenger Pigeon is thought to be the first published depiction of the species. The Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands. v. 1. 1754.
Q2: @SILibraries: How fast are we losing species?
@BioDivLibrary: Recent estimates say by as much as 1000x the natural rate
@SILibraries: This article from @SmithsonianMag says 75% of species extinct in next century
@BioDivLibrary: Among terrestrial vertebrates: 322 species extinct since 1500. 25% average decline
@ROMbiodiversity: and they've just announced it might be worse

Q3: @SiobhanLeachman: Was wondering if it was the advent of railroads that helped allow extinction?
@BioDivLibrary: Absolutely! Railroads allowed millions to be shipped each year
@BioDivLibrary: Cheap meat, large supply & easy distribution via railroads fueled PP annihilation
@SiobhanLeachman: Assumed it took hunters to PP as well
@birdernewjersey: Yes hotels sprang up at railroad terminus when pigeons were around to be shot
@BioDivLibrary: Telegraph was another tech allowing hunters to know quickly where PP were roosting

Passenger Pigeon among its relatives. Pycraft, W.P. A Book of Birds. 1908.

Q4: @SILibraries: What is so important about Taxonomic Literature?
@BioDivLibrary: Lit provides record of species and helps scientists identify new species
@BioDivLibrary: Helps track changes in ecosystems & distributions to identify species & habitats to protect
@HsapiensMarissa: Taxonomic lit bridges gaps in understanding of biodiversity concepts so issues can be targeted holistically
@BioDivLibrary: United Nations requires countries to identify/monitor species w/in borders-BHL provides inventories/info
@BioDivLibrary: It also documents extinct species and their life, morphology, and phylogeny
@SILibraries: How does BHL helps scientists in remote countries?
@BioDivLibrary: BHL provides #openaccess to info on species anywhere/everywhere, even if no access to libraries 
@birdernewjersey: Not just in remote countries: I'd hate to go to the library every time I needed to look something up #badolddays

If you missed the chat, or want to see some of the discussions again, you can see the conversations via Storify. Thanks to everyone who participated! It was a great educational and collaborative event!

Learn more about the passenger pigeon and North American bird extinction, and see Martha, the last passenger pigeon, in the joint SIL/BHL exhibit Once There Were Billions at NMNH. Check out images of the Passenger Pigeon and other extinct birds and view Martha's autopsy in BHL.

Be sure to follow BHL on Twitter for more great biodiversity and literature content and information!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

BHL Is Back!

Access to the BHL website has been restored! Thank you for your patience, and we apologize for the inconvenience.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

On the Case: An Internship in Detective Work, Library Style

Facade, Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History
My earliest memory of the Natural History Museum is climbing the steps to see the “stuffed animal zoo.” It was a very rainy day and our plans of visiting the National Zoo were put on hold. However, my mom had an idea so that I- only about four or five at the time- could still see animals. I had no idea at the time what exactly she meant by “stuffed animal,” but I had a blast and returned frequently during our yearly trips up from Florida. The stairs seemed so much taller back then. Now they’re just a quick jaunt up to something much more than a place to escape the rain. As the years and visits went by, I found that I did not get bored by the many visits. Instead, I started looking at different aspects of the museum- beyond the educational tags and videos. I started seeing the museum as an entity and watching how much it meant to the different people visiting.

Mammal Hall, Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History
I completed my undergraduate degree at Florida State University, majoring in Interdisciplinary Social Sciences with a focus on Anthropology and History. I also completed a minor and certificate program in Museum Studies. I am currently working on completing my graduate degree at Catholic University of America in Library Information Science with a focus on Cultural Heritage Information Management.

Being able to work with the Smithsonian Libraries was an amazing experience. I was able to spend the last six weeks working with the Biodiversity Heritage Library as part of the Professional Development Internship Program. Those weeks flew by as I worked on a number of different projects. One of the main projects I worked on had to do with BHL’s issue tracking system, called Gemini. With digital libraries comes an even bigger audience which can lead to even more input. BHL users are able to note problems, questions, or requests that they have with items in the library which are then sent through to the issue tracking system. I was able to help unravel some of the difficult bibliographic questions which were anchored in the age old “what were the publishers thinking?” Bibliographic leg work made me feel as though my librarian skills were taking me down the path of a detective. Except instead of a dark alley I was making my way through the cyber-shelves of OCLC, wandering through different countries’ books to add to my collective knowledge about a title.

Mariah Lewis, BHL Professional Development Intern
While working on different issues in the issue tracking system I was able to make edits to the records in the BHL. After doing cataloging and metadata work in previous internships I found it very interesting to see how that data was stored and edited in a digital library setting. The collaborative effort that went into editing BHL records and answering questions in the Gemini system was incredible. With participating institutions all over the world, communication and team work was indispensable.

Working with BHL was a big change from my previous library work. It was my first time in a library setting not working with books. The transition from working with books and documents in a digitization setting to never seeing a book was not as difficult as I was expecting. I was given first-hand experience working with digital surrogates or- as some would say- totally new digital objects. Beyond this, it was really interesting to see how you can work with people all over the country and world with technology. While that seems obvious, BHL takes this to a different level and really works at having clear communication lines. The collaborative effort was probably the most inspiring part of the internship. I saw how BHL’s work can be used in other aspects of librarianship which complements my library and information science education and gives me hope and ideas for the future of librarianship.

Mariah Lewis
BHL Professional Development Intern