Tuesday, August 30, 2011

BHL and Our Users: EOL Rubenstein Fellow, Dr. Joaquin (Ximo) Mengual

Welcome to the second installment of our mini-series featuring EOL Rubenstein Fellows and their use of BHL. This week, we feature Dr. Joaquin (Ximo) Mengual, a postdoctoral fellow at the Smithsonian Institution dedicated to studying Syrphidae!

What are your research interests, where do you do the bulk of your work (country), and what is your institution of affiliation?

My research interests focus on systematics and phylogenetics of the family Syrphidae (Insecta, Diptera), also known as flower flies or hoverflies. I am currently in the USA. I’m a Postdoctoral fellow at the Entomology Department of the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution.

In the program, Fellowships are expected to serve as a complimentary funding source to existing funding you have that supports your primary research activities. Please describe what your primary research activities are.

My primary research focuses on the taxonomy of Neotropical and Oriental syrphid genera, with a special interest in cybertaxonomy and the phylogenetic relationships among genera of the subfamily Syrphinae (http://entomology.si.edu/StaffPages/MengualJ.html).

Please describe how you use EOL to disseminate or support your primary research activities, or what your primary duties related to EOL are.

When describing new species in my publications, I always have to mention the differences between new and already described ones. I traditionally use illustrations for the new species but I also like to e-link images and texts already in EOL for those species that were previously described. As an EOL fellow (Rubenstein fellow), my primary duties are to create authoritative pages for all the distinct species groups of flower flies, using images, texts, descriptions, synonyms and references. To achieve this, I have a LifeDesk for flower flies. Everything in this LifeDesk also goes to EOL as a contribution.

How has the EOL Fellows program made a difference in your career/research?

The EOL Fellows program has given me the opportunity to study in detail all the different genera, subgenera and species groups of the family Syrphidae; it has helped me to have a more global vision of this group and to become familiar with a lot of literature that was previously unknown to me. Lastly, the EOL Fellows program has improved my skills to disseminate information and to work on cybertaxonomy.

Who is your Mentor, what is their area of interest (research activities), and how have they supported you throughout your Fellowship?

My Mentor is Dr. F. Christian Thompson. His interests include flower flies and others, their diversity, and cybertaxonomy. Dr. Thompson helped me conceive the design of the project, when it became necessary to find a way to manage a large amount of data by creating a database of the specimens photographed for EOL pages; he also gave me very wise advice about the systematics of Syrphidae. Last, but not least, he contributed with some texts to the LifeDesk and has kindly reviewed my contributions.

How does BHL support your Fellows activities, as well as those research activities that fall outside of your duties as an EOL Fellow?

For all the bibliographic references I have in the LifeDesk, I look for the original publication in BHL to link the species page with the publication. BHL has become an essential part of my daily life and has helped me in finding references, basic not only to my EOL duties, but also to my articles and publications. Very often I have to read old descriptions and texts from rare books, and BHL provides them in electronic format, making my life much easier because I don’t need to carry tons of books with me in order to conduct my research.

When did you first discover BHL?

It was in 2009, when I moved from Spain to Washington, DC, to start my postdoctoral fellowship. Dr. Thompson was the first to introduce me to this project when I needed to consult a publication from 1822 called Systematische Beschreibung der bekannten europaischen zweiflugeligen Insekten, by J. W. Meigen.

What are your favorite features/services on BHL?

As I said, the most important service on BHL is the capability of downloading books and other texts in electronic format. When I’m travelling or visiting museums abroad and I need to check some literature to finish a manuscript, or to check some characters from a described species to identify a specimen, BHL and its electronic texts have an incalculable value for me because I don’t have to carry heavy books and I don’t have to worry if there is not a copy of that rare book in the institution I’m visiting. The fact that you can search by author, by journal or by scientific name is also of great help because sometimes you don’t have the full name of the journal or there is some misspelling in the book’s name.

If you could change one thing about BHL, or suggest one thing to be the next developmental priority for BHL, what would it be?

I would like to be able to search for each article inside a journal. Right now you can only search for the journal and the issue inside the journal. Sometimes, if somebody has tagged an article, you can find it but those are very rare occasions. Normally you have to download the whole issue and then search for your particular article. If the users were able to query BHL with using the article’s title and the article’s author, it would save a lot of time.

Please describe why you think services like EOL and BHL are important for today’s scientific community.

In a digital era, it is essential to have a digital database of our knowledge on natural history. In my opinion BHL changed the way scientists do science, as heavy books are not necessary anymore if they are scanned and their texts and images are available in electronic format. BHL gave us the opportunity to read old literature and do science anywhere, not only in libraries or in your office.

On the other hand, EOL changed the way scientists communicate with the general public and vice versa. Before EOL, citizen-scientists needed to read original publications in journals that most probably were not available to them, and access to museum’s collections were restricted. EOL gave the opportunity to taxonomists, citizen-scientists and public in general, to see images of type material, photographs of animals, fungi and plants in their habitats properly identified, so they can use them to identify and name the nature that surrounds them. It is not only the texts and images, but also the links to important bibliographic references (here it is where BHL comes into play), the security of authoritative species pages and identifications and the possibility to search a particular species within the vast number of described taxa.

Do you have a favorite book in BHL, or a book that has most supported your research activities or EOL responsibilities?

I do not because I find all of them important. If I had to choose one, I would choose one book by the “starters” such as Linnaeus, Fabricius, Scopoli, Fallen, Wiedemann; the feeling of reading a 250 year old book in your computer is beyond words.

Thank you, Dr. Mengual, for taking the time to share your work with us and discuss the importance of both BHL and EOL to your research! We are quite aware of our users' desire to access items at the article-level in BHL, and with that in mind, we are in the process of developing Citebank, which will serve as an article repository for BHL, allowing users to access not only journal-level items from BHL, but also articles. While it is still in beta, we invite our users to explore this service and provide us feedback about it! And don't forget to visit Dr. Mengual's LifeDesk to learn everything you want to know about Syrphidae!

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