Monday, November 30, 2015

Report from GBIF 22 (Antananarivo, Madagascar, October 2015)

2015.10.03-DSC03904GBIF 22 (Antananarivo, Madagascar)

From the TDWG and BHL Africa Workshop, BHL Director Martin Kalfatovic traveled to Madagascar for the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) 22nd Meeting. He met up with Constance Rinaldo (BHL Vice Chair and librarian at the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard).

Program Director's Report
Arriving early, there was an opportunity for some touring. I visited the historic 18th century palace of the kings and queens of Madagascar as well as a car tour of other sites in the capital, Antananarivo (aka "Tana"). We also were able to take an overnight trip (4 hours east of Tana) to the Andasibe National Park. It was an amazing rainforest park; we were able to spot 5 species of lemur as well as chameleons, frogs and various birds.

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Traffic in Tana is even worse than Nairobi. There is an immense amount of zebu (an ox-like taurine) drawn carts as well as carts pulled by people. That, plus the cars, scooters, chickens, pedestrians (and total lack of any traffic control) turns a 10 minute trip into 45-60 minutes. It seems a significant portion of the population is engaged in either working the rice paddies (that are everywhere) or cutting, bundling, and carrying (by zebu cart, hand cart, or on their back) sheaves of zebu food. Zebu is on the menu morning, noon, and night!

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The first two days of the meeting were for the GBIF Nodes. I am the BHL Nodes Manager. These sessions were workshops on biodiversity data mobilization and related activities. I worked on the work groups for funding of biodiversity information and digitization of natural history collections.

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The next three days of the meeting were the GBIF governance meetings. Constance Rinaldo sat in as Head of Delegation for BHL (in Nancy Gwinn's absence). For complex reasons, the United States was unable to send in person the usual Head of Delegation (from the National Science Foundation), so I was asked to act as the U.S. Head of Delegation. There was nearly full representation of the voting members (about 27 nations). Additionally, non-voting nations (Brazil, Canada, Israel, Japan) and organizations (BHL, EOL, Naturalis, etc.) were there.

GBIF governance meeting #madagascar IMG_20151008_081238 IMG_20151008_084929

The meetings consisted of reports from all the chairs of groups (Node Manager, finance, etc.). There were also reviews of the past year's activities. The second day commenced with the GBIF Symposium that included a keynote talk by GBIF Executive Director Donald Hobern and talks by other members of the GBIF Secretariat. The Symposium concluded with the presentation of the first and second place winners of the Ebbe Nielsen Challenge. The winners were (see details at GBIF press release):
  • First prize winner: GBIF Dataset Metrics (Peter Desmet, Bart Aelterman and Nicolas NoĆ©)
  • Second prize: (Richard Pyle)
Moving back into the business of the meeting, there were votes on budget and other financial action items. Jane Silverthorne (NSF), Head of Delegation, was on Skype and we consulted via Skype-chat on the U.S. votes. Officers for next year were also voted on. The meeting concluded with a presentation by Brazil to host the GBIF 23 meeting in Brasilia. The voting members approved the recommendation on Brasilia as the next location. The U.S. requested the meeting to be held in September if possible.

Photo IMG_20151009_154102 IMG_20151008_131051

That evening, there was a closing banquet at the Paon d'Or Hotel with Malagasy music and presentation gifts of thanks to the Malagasy hosts and GBIF Secretariat staff for their work. I stayed late since I had a 3:30 am flight the next morning (and no hotel room for the night). Returned to my previous hotel (where I left my bags) and did some work out at the mosquito-infested pool area til about midnight when I was taken to the Antananarivo Airport (a bit of a spooky place at 1 am since it's mostly outdoors). Flight left on time and I made it to Nairobi where I had a twelve hour layover before continuing on to Zurich (with a five hour layover) and then back to Washington on Sunday.

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IMG_20151006_092815APPENDIX I: Notes from GBIF Nodes Meeting, 6-7 October 2015
  • About 35 people attending. 
  • Donald Hobern (GBIF Ex. Secretary). Update and Strategic Plan
CC Licensing
Key elements include endorsing CC licenses to all datasets. CC-BY, CC0, CC-CY-NC will be the options. If data providers cannot use one of these, the data sets will be removed. All of this will be completed by December 2015. Secretariat will work with the data publishers to make this happen. End result, all GBIF data sets will have a CC license by the end of CY 2015.

DOIs and Citation
All GBIF datasets will have a DOI. Zootaxa first publication to cite GBIF data with a DOI. 1 billion records downloaded from GBIF each day. Next steps include a revision to the GBIF Data User agreement (by end of 2015); work with DataCite and publishers to start mining of GBIF DOIs; develop a reporting service.

Sample-Based Data
Darwin Core Event now supports sample based data (ratified at TDWG 2015). Next steps are to monitor and report use of this extension in the network

Strategic Plan
GBIF operates on 5 year plans; currently in 3rd phase; new strategic plan will cover 2017-2021. Plan will be voted on at this Governance meeting.
  • Priority 1: Deliver Relevant Data
  • Priority 2: Improve Data Quality
  • Priority 3: Fill data gaps
  • Priority 4: Enhance Biodiversity Informatics Infrastructure
  • Priority 5: Empower Global Network
Report of Nodes Committee Chair, Hanna Koivula, Nodes Committee Chair
Would like to see more communication to/with the Nodes Community. Use Google Docs and the GBIF Community site. Needs to be more work to communicate BACK to the community.

Mandate of the Nodes Committee include:
  • best practices
  • identify barriers
  • exchange of knowledge
  • communicate Nodes requirements back to Science Committee and Secretariat
  • identify Nodes that can offer help to achieve goals
  • help new participants and establish new Nodes
Nodes Committee and Steering Group meet every second year at GBIF; have ad hoc working groups

Review of Regional Collaboration, Olaf Banaki, GBIF Secretariat
GB15 advanced the regional nodes approach. Formally adopted in 2011 (GB18).

There have been 28 regional meetings since 2008 with more than 600 participants; estimated costs  €520,699; every region except Oceania.

SWOT Analysis
  • Regional sub-committees can be effective
  • improved regional communications
  • Communications
  • Funding
  • regional sub-committees could inform regional science policy
  • regional sub-committees could coordinate use of funds to deliver GBIF goals
  • Accelerate engagement with non-Participant countries in their regions
  • Regional sub-committees may overlap with other regional initiatives
  • Lack of geo coverage may affect credibility and effectiveness of regional committees
Node Workplan Overview, Manual Vargas
Workplan needed for managing collaborations including capacity enhancement, regional work plans, inter-regional collaborations, and project financed by external sponsors.

Examples of collaboration
  • GBIF Brazil portal
  • ALA portal sponsored by ERAnet
Draft workplan in the process by the Nodes Committee (NC) at end of 2014; Node Steering Group (NSG) analyzed this at start of 2015.

Top three priorities:
  • How to connect with users
  • promote collaborations
  • develop biodiv curriculum
Mapped to the 2012-16 and 2017-21 strategic plans. These plans will be worked on in detail during the rest of this meeting.

There were five working groups to discuss various topics. I was in the "Funding GBIF Nodes" session and was the note taker and group reporter. Others in my group were from Tanzania, India, Madagascar, and Togo. A discussion of objectives, outcomes, activities, and actions.

Working group on Common Approaches to Digitization and Repatriation (Anders Telenius)
Overview of NH collection digitization with concentration on Europe. Did round robin for group to report on know national, pan-national or major institutional NH collections digitization. BHL, iDigBio, ALA, ABCDN, NH Paris, Smithsonian, and other projects were discussed.

Second day started with a recap of previous day's work on inventory of global initiatives and regional projects. Concluded with lightning talks on various projects til close.

IMG_20151008_084659APPENDIX II: GBIF Governance Meeting
There was a quorum of voting members.

A number of changes in the constituency with various countries moving between members and affiliates. Braulio Dias, Executive Secretary, Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) sent a video message of welcome.  Nice tribute to Len Hirsch from the GBIF Governing Board Chair (Peter Schalk).

Governing Board Chair Report
  • significant increase in data use over previous year
  • important collaboration meeting earlier this year in Leiden with BHL, EOL, CoL and EBOLD
Executive Secretary Report
  • complex organization; various staff changes and pay scale changes (lowering salaries at the top and increasing them at the bottom)
  • major plan now underway (complete by December) to license all data in GBIF using Creative Commons
  • GBIF now using DOIs for data sets that will allow for tracking of use and provide metrics
IMG_20151009_120719 Comments on Executive Secretary Report:
  • Staffing levels of the GBIF Secretariat, is it too big, too small, just right?
    ANSWER:  there are 23 total staff of the Secretariat which is a lot; total cost of Secretariat (due to staff changes and different salary structures) has gone down.
  • Secretariat complimented on transparency of finances and organization. Also asked for a statement on what the value add is of GBIF is to biodiversity research.
    ANSWER: Thank you and good question that will be addressed in GBIF publications and reports.
Action Item on Reports from Committees and Groups
  • Reports were accepted by voting delegation by acclamation.
Report of the Science Committee
  • Ebbe Nielsen challenge was a success; next year, but focus on "ignorance mapping" (finding out what we don't know)
  • GBIF needs to take the lead (along with Catalogue of Life) on rectifying names
  • needs to work on improving data quality
  • need to provide a value proposition for GBIF data to convince government funders of value
Comments on Science Committee Report:
  • Species 2000 (Dave Remsen): Pointed out Catalogue of Life is a key partner of GBIF to mobilize taxonomic names. Encourages taxonomic experts in countries to work with CoL on the problem of names.
  • Angola: How can national nodes work to validate data publishers?
    ANSWER: need open transparent access and close work with the GBIF Secretariat; key is to make sure that data is being validated at the national level.
  • South Africa: will the taxonomic names project be properly funded and staffed (and can GBIF actually afford this?); also noted that GBIF is further down the value chain for governments (e.g. not as close to home as something like SANBI)
  • Australia: Happy to hear that GBIF is willing to tackle the names problem.
Report of the Nodes Committee
  • Recapped work of the past year and the work of the previous two days.
IMG_20151009_093855Report of the Budget Committee
  • only 30% of dues were paid by the March deadline; 92% were in by 30 September
  • Late payments are a challenge to cash flow
Financial Regulations Discussion
  • overview of the financial methodology of GBIF
  • Basic Funds = Dues and donations
  • Supplementary Funds = Contributions from members to Secretariat
  • Project Funds = grants and contracts with direct deliverables; defined timespan
  • Holds 20% in Reserve/Contingency fund historically
  • Define Core activities and estimate budget for those activities
Revised Financial Model
Key thing in the model is that there is a new formula for calculating financial contributions by voting members. Goal of the change was to simplify the model, to reduce dependency on a few large countries, a move to a GDP model, and locked in for a 5 year period.

Under this model, US dues will be cut nearly in half (from €700k to €500K); ensures that no single country will contribute more than 15% of the overall budget.

Strategic Plan Discussion
  • Priority 1: Deliver Relevant Data
  • Priority 2: Improve Data Quality
  • Priority 3: Fill data gaps
  • Priority 4: Enhance Biodiversity Informatics Infrastructure
  • Priority 5: Empower Global Network
General discussion of the strategic plan points took up the greater part of the rest of the afternoon.

Day 2 opened with the GBIF Symposium consisting of reports from various members of the GBIF Secretariat and Committee chairs.

Being ahead of schedule, moved on to the business session slated for Day 3; budget plan (known as the workplan) was approved as submitted after discussion. Moved on to voting on slate of candidates. Peter Schalk was reelected as Chair (unopposed), all other slots were also unopposed and approved; contested spots were 2nd and 3rd vice chair of the Science Committee, Philippe Grandcolas (2nd Vice chair) and Anders Telenius and G. Finstad (3rd Vice chair) -- both were running for both slots, so no real losers.

Location of GBIF 23. Only Brazil put forward a bid and it was approved unanimously. The US asked for the meeting to take place in September and that will be taken under consideration and decided in the coming months.

2015.10.05-IMG_5230APPENDIX III
Lemur species sited at Andasibe-Mantadia National Park:
  • Indri (Intri indri)
  • Bamboo lemur (Hapalemur)
  • Diademed sifaka (Propithecus diadema)
  • Common brown lemur (Eulemur fulvus)
  • Gray Gentle Lemur (Hapalemur griseus)

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

UPDATE: Technical Issues with BHL Custom PDFs 11/22-11/23

Problems with the custom PDFs created on the BHL website on 11/22 and 11/23 have now been resolved. The links to access any PDFs that were generated during this time should now work. If you still experience problems, please send us feedback: Thanks for your patience!

A Compelling Decade: Reviewing our Progress at the BHL Staff Meeting

Eight years ago I attended my first Biodiversity Heritage Library staff meeting at the Missouri Botanical Garden, and it was there I was asked to report at the meeting on what I thought the philosophy behind a project to build a global freely accessible online biodiversity library was. My thoughts at that time hovered somewhere around deeply idealistic and altruistic ideas having to do with like-minded libraries collaborating to make the foundation of legacy scientific literature, then accessible only to few, accessible to all. These ideas also related to the growing open access movement. When funding for BHL became available, this type of idealism helped fuel the development of the long-term dynamic form and function of the BHL.

Matthew Person, MBLWHOI Library. Author of this blog post.

I recently thought back to that 2007 BHL meeting in St. Louis as I prepared to attend the BHL Staff Meeting held at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, on November 12-13 2015. After years of working as a BHL staff member (we originally called ourselves worker bees!), at this staff meeting I needed to find compelling reasons for us to continue the unfinished work of developing and increasing the sustainability of our freely accessible library of legacy biodiversity content. It was a privilege to be at the Smithsonian to once again meet up with colleagues from sister institutions like Chicago’s Field Museum, Harvard University’s Museum of Comparative Zoology and Botany Department, the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, and the distinguished Natural History Museums in New York City, Washington DC, and London…just to name some of the natural history institutions represented at this meeting.

BHL Staff at the 2015 BHL Staff Meeting at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Photo: Martin Kalfatovic. 

The hands-on portion for the staff of this project began in 2007 when we first physically explored and analyzed the volumes filling the library stacks of our institutions, selecting materials, preparing those materials for scanning, having them scanned, and transferring the files first to our scanning partner the Internet Archive and then on to the newly developed BHL web portal. This entire process has been improved through successive generations of technological developments, transparent project administration, commitments across the board from the administrations of the BHL Partners and Affiliates, as well as the generous support of many funding agencies and foundations.

Gathered for a pre-meeting dinner at Smithsonian Libraries' Metadata Librarian Suzanne Pilsk's house. Photo: Martin Kalfatovic.

As our staff meeting at the Smithsonian progressed, I looked for and found many compelling reasons for our project to move ahead. Foremost of these reasons and the cornerstone of any organization of course, is its staff. Our BHL Library Staff is a cooperative, intelligent, and forward thinking group of librarians and technical development experts. Seeing my BHL colleagues is like meeting up with old friends and dear coworkers who have the highest respect for each other, because we have worked so successfully as a team for nearly an entire decade.

The BHL Staff is no longer at the foot of a mountain at the beginning of an epic hike to the peak, as we were in 2007. It could be said we have scaled the mountain and have discovered that our plan has been sound. The BHL vision statement, “Inspiring discovery through free access to biodiversity knowledge,” has created a global horizon for us. Our online library holds over 170,000 scanned volumes – linked to digital tools which give legacy biodiversity literature as much power as newly published electronic content. The scientific literature content of our library is being given even more power by our technical team, who makes sure our metadata “knows” how to speak with databases and tools outside of the BHL, whereby more scholars and other library users will encounter more links to the literature in our library in more places.

William Ulate, BHL Technical Director. Photo: Martin Kalfatovic.

During the meeting we listened to a review of the last 10 years of the BHL by Program Director Martin Kalfatovic and a technical overview of the architecture of BHL by Technical Director William Ulate. We completed an enumeration and analysis of all the tasks performed by BHL staff members, directed by Martin Kalfatovic, Smithsonian Librarian Keri Thompson, and BHL Secretariat Staff members Grace Costantino, Carolyn Sheffield, and Bianca Crowley, during which we gave ourselves a report card on how well we have done and brainstormed on how to better meet the needs of our Biodiversity Heritage Library users now and in the future. We also shared a number of delicious meals and many conversations over the course of a couple of days.

Small group brainstorming for analysis of tasks performed for BHL. Left to Right: Randy Smith (Missouri Botanical Garden, Peter H. Raven Library), Diana Shih (American Museum of Natural History Library); Marty Schlabach (Cornell University Library); Cathy Buckwalter (Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, Library and Archives). Photo: Martin Kalfatovic.

Much like the first BHL meeting I attended, when the group adjourned we left with agreed upon follow-up tasks, comfortably knowing within a short period of time we’d be back in touch again via our regularly-held conference call meetings. The philosophy behind the concept of the BHL remains the same for me as it was almost a decade ago: we’re a global collaboration, working to ensure that the world’s legacy and select current biodiversity literature is accessible, usable, and sustainable. You can’t get any more compelling than that!

Matt Person
Tech Services Coordinator/Serials Librarian
Contributing Librarian 
Biodiversity Heritage Library

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Travels in Southern Africa: William John Burchell

William John Burchell is credited "with having been the most prolific collector of botanical and zoological specimens." [1] During a four-year scientific exploration of South Africa, he amassed a collection of over 63,000 specimens. And yet, Burchell's contributions to science have been largely overlooked. As William Swainson bemoaned, "science must ever regret that one whose powers of mind were so varied...was so signally neglected in his own country." [2]

Portrait of William John Burchell by Thomas Herbert Maguire (1854).

2015 marks the 200th anniversary of Burchell's return to Cape Town following his four-year expedition in South Africa. The University of Pretoria recently digitized Burchell's account of this journey, a two-volume work entitled Travels in the Interior of Southern Africa (1822-24) for BHL. This offers an excellent opportunity to not only highlight this recent addition from our colleagues in BHL Africa, but recognize the incredible accomplishments of a remarkable man.

William Burchell was born in Fulham, England, in 1781. His family owned the prosperous nine-and-a-half acre Fulham Nursery and Botanical Garden, which afforded him many opportunities to study botany and interact with some of the most influential natural historians of the day. Sir William Hooker, the first director of the Royal Gardens in Kew, was Burchell's friend and mentor. The prosperity of his family's business provided Burchell with the means to travel and nurture his interest in natural history and particularly botany.

View of Cape Town, Table Bay and Tygerberg, 26 December, 1810. Engraved from a drawing by William John Burchell. Travels in the Interior of Southern Africa. v. 1 (1822). Digitized by: University of Pretoria.

In 1810, Burchell arrived in Cape Town, South Africa, and on 19 June 1811, he set out from that city on a four-year expedition throughout the interior of southern Africa "solely for the purpose of acquiring knowledge." [2] During the journey, he covered 7,000 km, mostly in an ox-wagon that he designed to serve as his home, laboratory, and library. He traveled as far north-east as the asbestos mountains just north of Chue Spring and became the first recorded European explorer to successfully travel through Bushmanland. The account of his expedition, Travels in the Interior of Southern Africa, covers only the period from his arrival in Cape Town through his departure from Litakun in August 1812.

"A view in the town of Litakun." Engraved from a drawing by William John Burchell. Travels in the Interior of Southern Africa. v. 2 (1824). Digitized by: University of Pretoria.

Burchell's accomplishments on the journey were extensive, particularly in the field of natural history. He collected 50,000 species of plants, seeds and bulbs, 10,000 specimens of insects, animal skins, skeletons, and fish, numerous anthropological artifacts, and created 500 drawings during the expedition. The Royal Botanical Gardens in Kew now holds a vast majority of Burchell's extensive botanical collections. His journals document the precise location, morphological features, and habitat of the specimens he collected.

"Rock Fountain in the Country of the Bushmen." 9 September, 1811. Engraved from a drawing by William John Burchell. Travels in the Interior of Southern Africa. v. 1 (1822). Digitized by: University of Pretoria.
In addition to natural history, Burchell made important observations in the earth sciences during the expedition, being the first recorded person to identify asbestos in the Northern Cape and the "first to describe glacial pavements in the country." [2] He also charted his entire route, creating a "Map of the Extratropical Parts of Southern Africa" (published in v.1 of his book), which was a "milestone in the cartography of the country." [1] In the field of astronomy, he observed the variability of Eta Carinae's brightness, and, by using a combination of Friar's Balsam (Compound Tincture Benzoin), laudanum, Buchu vinegar, and Wild Wormwood to treat a serious gunshot wound afflicting one of the expedition's members, became the first recorded person to successfully integrate indigenous herbal medicine with medicines used in Europe "into the management of such a serious condition." [2]

Map of the Extratropical parts of Southern Africa. Travels in the Interior of Southern Africa. v. 1 (1822). Digitized by: University of Pretoria.

After Burchell's return to Cape Town in April 1815, he went on to travel in Brazil, collecting over 23,000 additional specimens. However, after his return to England, Burchell became increasingly reclusive and protective of his collections, focusing on cataloging his vast botanical specimens but also refusing to allow others to access his collections. Some historians hypothesize that he may have suffered from a bipolar-type disorder. [2] In 1863, at the age of 82, after one unsuccessful suicide attempt by gunshot, he hung himself in a small outhouse in his garden. He is buried near his home in Fulham, in the family tomb at All Saints Church, Hammersmith.

Burchell's Zebra (Equus quagga burchellii), named after William John Burchell by John Edward Gray. Brehm, Alfred Edmund. The Animals of the World (1895). Digitized by: Cornell University Library.

Though his life had a tragic ending, Burchell's accomplishments are remarkable. In addition to the many specimens he collected, a species of South African wild pomegranate (Burchellia bubalina) is named after him, and the common names of many animals bear his moniker, including Burchell's zebra, Burchell's coucal, three birds (Burchell's starling, coarser, and grouse), a lizard (Burchell's sand lizard), and the white rhinoceros (for which Burchell was the first to give a scientific name and is also known, although less-commonly, as Burchell's rhinoceros). He also recommended the establishment of a public garden in Cape Town. He described the Kirstenbosch area as "the most picturesque I had seen in the vicinity." [2] The Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden was founded in 1913.

We are honored to have a copy of Burchell's Travels in the Interior of Southern Africa in BHL, thanks to the University of Pretoria, as, to quote historian George Theal, it is "one of the most trustworthy and valuable books ever issued upon South Africa." [1]

William John Burchell was an extraordinary man. We have not forgotten him.

[1] Stewart, Roger. "William John Burchell's Medical Challenges: A 19th Century Natural Philosopher in the Field." South African Medical Journal: 2012;102(4). pgs. 252-255.
[2] Stewart, Roger and Brian Warner. "William John Burchell: The Multi-skilled Polymath." South African Journal of Science. 2012;108(11/12), Art. #1207, 9 pages.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Australian Lepidoptera Heritage

Have you ever stumbled across a caterpillar and wondered what kind of adult moth or butterfly it would metamorphose into?

Short of catching the caterpillar and actually observing what adult it becomes, this answer might be harder to come by than you might think. Most taxonomy and identification has been performed on the adults of various Lepidopteran species, and there are still many species whose caterpillar forms are not readily known.

This is particularly true for many Australian species whose early life stages remain a scientific mystery.

Dr. Don Herbison-Evans hopes to shed some light on these Australian larval mysteries through the website Australian Caterpillars and their Butterflies and Moths, which is hosted by the Coffs Harbour Butterfly House in New South Whales, Australia.

Dr. Don Herbison-Evans

Dr. Herbison-Evans has professional experience in a variety of scientific disciplines, including information technology and computer science, astronomy, and chemistry. His interest in entomology, however, was sparked when he emigrated from the UK to Sydney to start his academic career in the 1960s. He and good friend Dr. Stella A. Crossley (who also emigrated from the UK to Melbourne around the same time to lecture in the Psychology Department at Monash University) were fascinated by the number of caterpillar species they found in their gardens.

"I remember taking one beastie to the enquiries desk at the Australian Museum, and asking what species it was," recalled Don. "The lady there laughed, and then explained that most of the taxonomy of Australian Lepidoptera was done by entomologists at the British Museum on dried adult specimens sent back to the UK by Joseph Banks and other British explorers, so the entomologists had no idea what the early life stages, such as the caterpillars, were like."

Thus, Don and Stella started photographing the caterpillars they found and rearing them into adults to discover their mature counterparts. In an effort to share what they discovered, they wrote a manuscript entitled 100 Common Australian Caterpillars, but unfortunately, publishers' interest in caterpillars in the 1970s was virtually nonexistent. So Don and Stella shelved the manuscript.

And then, some twenty years later, along came the Internet.

"We were encouraged as univerisity staff to put potted biographies of ourselves on the web for students to know more about us, and of course we included a note in ours that we were interested in caterpillars," explained Don. "We then got increasing numbers of people sending descriptions and photos of caterpillars asking what they were. So we said: 'OK let's just put our book on the web.'"

And so Australian Caterpillars and their Butterflies and Moths was born. The website contains webpages for over 3,600 Australian Lepidopteran species (having grown from an original 100). These webpages include descriptive information about the species as well as, where available, images of the adult and caterpillar forms. The pages are grouped according to family, and these pages are linked via a single page for moths and another for butterflies.

Example of BHL image in Australian Caterpillars and their Butterflies and Moths. Hesperilla bifasciata species page.

The Biodiversity Heritage Library serves as an excellent source of information for the website.

"BHL has enabled me to add historical richness to my popular descriptions of the biology of the Lepidoptera of Australia," stated Don.

Using BHL everyday, Don searches for references to species of interest in BHL using our taxonomic name finding tool. If this does not yield results, he searches the OCR of likely journal issues for genus or species names. He then links these pages to relevant content in the website. Where illustrations are available in BHL, these are also uploaded to the corresponding species pages. These illustrations, which offer an interesting juxtaposition to modern photographs, are, in fact, Don's favorite feature on BHL.

Example of BHL image in Australian Caterpillars and their Butterflies and Moths. Diduga flavicostata species page.

In addition to information about specific species, the website also provides some pretty incredible facts about caterpillars. For example, did you know that caterpillars have thousands of muscles, whereas humans only have about 500? Or that the female moths of the Australian species such as Teia anartoides have no wings, and the species disperses by the young caterpillars making an open gossamer sail out of silk, and sailing away on it in the wind?

Teia anartoides young caterpillars ballooning (Photo: courtesy of Rudie Kuiter, Aquatic Photographics, Victoria).

The website has become an incredible resource for those interested in exploring Australian Lepidoptera. Don particularly hopes that it will help spark an interest in these insects among younger audiences.

"Our idea in the webpages is to help, particularly young Australian people, understand and value the unique entomological heritage to which they are heirs, and to foster an understanding of how to preserve that heritage for future generations," Don explained. "The webpages try to be chatty and intriguing to, say, an intelligent 12 year old, but to include enough technical information to tempt them deeper into the ecology and taxonomy of Australian Lepidoptera. With the help of the Biodiversity Heritage Library and Wikipedia, we are able to link the current descriptions of the biology of the species to the original descriptions from two or more centuries ago and to biographies of their authors who can be seen to have been real people, who too were intensely interested in Australian fauna. I think this helps establish the idea in our readers that these organisms have perhaps as much right to live in Australia as they do, and that our living biological heritage can be preserved and maintained, just as [BHL] preserves our literary and scientific heritage."

We think the website is well on its way to achieving this goal. After all, what young person wouldn't want to learn more about a caterpillar that can fire fecal pellets from its anus?

Thanks very much to Dr. Herbison-Evans for sharing his work and use of BHL with us. Be sure to explore Australian Caterpillars and their Butterflies and Moths today.

Do you use BHL regularly for your work? Want to be featured on our blog? Send a message to 

Monday, November 9, 2015

BHL receives the Internet Archive's Internet Heroes award at the 2015 Library Leaders' Forum

Photo credit: Brad Shirakawa, Internet Archive
The Biodiversity Heritage Library was honored to receive the Internet Archive's Internet Heroes award at the 2015 Library Leaders' Forum in San Francisco, 21-23 October 2015. Hosted by Brewster Kahle and Wendy Hanamura, the Leaders' Forum was attended by Internet Archive partners from across the world of cultural heritage institutions. The theme of the meeting, "Building Libraries Together," drew together the many threads of activities that the Internet Archive has fostered for over ten years that create an open, participatory virtual library of books, music, websites, television, and more.

Photo credit: Brad Shirakawa
Internet Archive
Earlier during the multi-day event, John Perry Barlow, lyricist of the Grateful Dead, founding member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and general Internet visionary (see, e.g. his "Economy of Ideas" published in Wired Magazine in 1994) accepted from Brewster Kahle the "Internet Archive Hero Award to the Grateful Dead–Pioneers in Sharing."

Accepting the award on behalf of the past, present and future hard working contributors to the success of the Biodiversity Heritage Library were Martin R. Kalfatovic (BHL Program Director), Carolyn Sheffield (BHL Program Manager), Keri Thompson (Smithsonian Libraries), and BHL Founding Technical Director, Chris Freeland (Washington University).

Photo credit: Brad Shirakawa
Internet Archive
The two-day meeting also provided participants the opportunity to engage in discussion with Internet Archive staff and colleagues in the areas of sustainability, copyright, access, and technology. Attendees had an opportunity to try out the new Table Top Scribe, hear about and provide input into Internet Archive's goals, and learn about some innovative pilot projects under development at Archive Lab including the IIIF viewer and new search algorithms.

Biodiversity Heritage Library
Internet Archive Hero Award 2015

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Using Art to Document Species: Cramer and the Lepidoptera

How could you make a visual record of a collection before the advent of photography? Through illustrations, of course. It was a desire to produce just such a record that prompted the creation of the magnificent plates accompanying De uitlandsche kapellen voorkomende in de drie waereld-deelen, Asia, Africa en America ([1775]-1782), by Pieter Cramer, which has been digitized for BHL by Mann Library, Cornell University.

De uitlandsche kapellen voorkomende in de drie waereld-deelen, Asia, Africa en America. [1775]-1782. Digitized by Mann Library, Cornell University. 

Pieter Cramer was a wealthy linen and wool merchant from Amsterdam. Born in 1721, he had a keen interest in natural history - particularly Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths). Through purchase and trade, Cramer amassed a large collection of Lepidoptera specimens from Suriname, Sri Lanka (then Ceylon), Indonesia, North America, Africa, and Asia. Cramer hired Amsterdam artist Gerrit Wartenaar to illustrate his collection in order to make a permanent record of it. The resulting hand-colored plates were so magnificent that Cramer was encouraged to publish them. He did so via De uitlandsche kapellen, which includes 400 plates featuring 1,658 moth and butterfly species, each accompanied by a brief description of the antennal shape and wing pattern. The plates and text were published in thirty-four parts between 1775-82, with one issue being sent out to a list of subscribers every three months. The final work consists of four volumes.

De uitlandsche kapellen voorkomende in de drie waereld-deelen, Asia, Africa en America. [1775]-1782. Digitized by Mann Library, Cornell University.

Sadly, Cramer died of a fever in 1776, before the first volume was complete. His nephew and business partner, Anthony Wellemzoon van Rensselaar, enlisted the help of Caspar Stoll (who had been involved in the production of the first volume) to complete the final volumes. Stoll wrote most of the text for volume four, and, between 1787-90, published a supplement to the work that included forty-two plates of 250 additional species.

De uitlandsche kapellen voorkomende in de drie waereld-deelen, Asia, Africa en America. [1775]-1782. Digitized by Mann Library, Cornell University.

De uitlandsche kapellen is important for a number of reasons. It depicts each species at life-size and illustrates both the upper and lower wings for each. It was also the first treatise on Lepidoptera to use the newly-introduced classification system from Carl Linnaeus. Cramer and Stoll assigned each butterfly and moth to one of the three then-existing Lepidopteran genera (designated by Linnaeus) - today there are thousands of genera for butterflies and moths. In providing scientific names to the species, they not only used any existing binomials for the specimens included in the work, but, as many of the species had not yet been named, they also assigned a name and provided the first formal scientific description for many species depicted in the volumes. As a result, De uitlandsche kapellen contains hundreds of "original descriptions" and as such is still integral to the work of scientists today.

De uitlandsche kapellen voorkomende in de drie waereld-deelen, Asia, Africa en America. [1775]-1782. Digitized by Mann Library, Cornell University.

You can explore De uitlandsche kapellen voorkomende in de drie waereld-deelen, Asia, Africa en America (1779-1782), by Pieter Cramer, for free in BHL, digitized by Mann Library, Cornell University Library. You can view the illustrations in this work on Flickr: Pts. 1-2 | Pts. 3-4.

Source: James, Miller. "The Volumes of Cramer and Stoll: A Timeless Contribution to the Science of Butterflies and Moths." Natural Histories. New York: American Museum of Natural History, 2012. 57-58. Print.