Thursday, August 31, 2017

Artist Kumataro Ito Aboard the USS Albatross

This post was originally published on The Field Book Project blog on 30 June 2017.

Bartsch, Paul. Notes and description of specimens collected on the Philippine Expedition of the Steamer Albatross, circa 1908. Illustration by Kumataro Ito. Digitized by Smithsonian Institution Archives.

In 1907, the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries—now known as NOAA Fisheries or the National Marine Fisheries Service—embarked on a 2 ½ year research trip to the Philippine and neighboring islands. Of the many research trips conducted on their steamer the USS Albatross, the Philippine expedition resulted in a staggering estimate of 490,000 specimens turned over to the U.S. National Museum, what is now the National Museum of Natural History. When specimens are stored in ethanol, as these were, they do not retain their original coloring. To capture this information, these trips would also include efforts to document the specimens in other ways, such as photos or illustrations.

At the time of this expedition, a portable, reliable way to create quality color photographs was still several decades away, so it wasn’t an option for researchers in the field. Having an artist on board was the only option to capture the brilliant colors of the collected marine species. For this particular outing of the Albatross, Tokyo-based artist Kumataro Ito was hired to illustrate specimens collected by researchers.

Ito studied under Gyozan Nakajima, noted illustrator of the 19th century, and had already established himself as a natural history painter at Department of Zoology of Tokyo University and working on publications such as the Fishes of Japan, an account principally on economic species.

Bartsch, Paul. Notes and description of specimens collected on the Philippine Expedition of the Steamer Albatross, circa 1908. Illustration by Kumataro Ito. Digitized by Smithsonian Institution Archives.

Over the course of the expedition, Ito created over 200 paintings of specimens collected by the small research crew, including mollusks collected by Smithsonian’s Paul Bartsch. Last month, our team digitized one of Bartsch’s notebooks from the expedition. The notebook caught our eye from the first time we saw it because of the beautiful full-color paintings of nudibranchs, all by Ito. Each painting includes notations in Japanese which supplement Bartsch’s notes. Based on how well the paintings have aged, it’s likely they were created on quality Japanese paper similar to what is used today for book repairs.

Bartsch, Paul. Notes and description of specimens collected on the Philippine Expedition of the Steamer Albatross, circa 1908. Illustration by Kumataro Ito. Digitized by Smithsonian Institution Archives.

Unfortunately, Ito’s paintings often went unattributed or incorrectly credited to the researcher when later reproduced in publications. It’s a shame considering the clear talent Ito had in capturing the diversity of marine life. The nudibranch paintings in the Bartsch notebook are an incredible sight and we are pleased they are now available to view online, with proper credit to Kumataro Ito.

Bartsch, Paul. Notes and description of specimens collected on the Philippine Expedition of the Steamer Albatross, circa 1908. Illustration by Kumataro Ito. Digitized by Smithsonian Institution Archives.

By Adriana Marroquin 
Project Manager 
The Smithsonian Field Book Project 

Digitization of this field book was sponsored by a grant from Arcadia – a charitable fund of Peter Baldwin and Lisbet Rausing

Further Reading:

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Final Contribution of Sir William Jardine, Scottish Ornithologist

Jardine’s parrot or red-fronted parrot (Poicephalus gulielmi). Drawn from a specimen brought back from the Congo by Jardine’s son William, for whom it was named. Jardine, William. Contributions to Ornithology, Vol. 2. Edinburgh :W.H. Lizars, 1848-1853. Digitized by the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, Library and Archives.

As was the case for many of his contemporaries, Sir William Jardine, 7th Baronet of Applegarth, was a man of many talents. Ichthyology, botany, entomology and geology were all subjects in which Sir William was thoroughly knowledgeable, but it was ornithology that was his true passion.

It was out of this passion that Jardine produced two original works on ornithology: Illustrations of Ornithology and the annual periodical Contributions to Ornithology. Just five volumes of Contributions were produced from 1848-1852; the Academy of Natural Science’s library copy is bound in three volumes. Contributions is not only the first ornithological periodical produced in Britain, but one of Jardine’s finest natural history works...and his last.

Two examples of the genus Todirostrum, drawn by Catherine Strickland. Jardine, William. Contributions to Ornithology, Vol. 5. Edinburgh :W.H. Lizars, 1848-1853. Digitized by the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, Library and Archives.

Born in Edinburgh on the 23rd of February, 1800 to Sir Alexander Jardine, 6th Baronet of Applegarth, and Jane Maule, Sir William Jardine grew up in a world of relative wealth and privilege. Not only was he afforded a title, but he stood to inherit Jardine Hall, a stately home located on an estate of over 5,000 acres of land along the banks of the River Annan. At the age of 18, he began medical training at Edinburgh University. Although his intended path was that of a medical doctor, his friendship with the school’s janitor and preserver of specimens for the university museum led him to his true calling of ornithology.

Upon his father’s death in 1821, Jardine not only inherited a title and an estate, but the necessary funds to purchase the ornithological specimens which would become the basis of his renowned collection, which would grow to over 12,000 skins. Despite his newfound obligations as Baronet, including overseeing over 900 parishioners and 11 farms, Jardine found ample time to produce several notable works on ornithology and other subjects.

The blue-bearded bee-eater (Nyctyornis athertoni). William Jardine and Prideaux John Selby. Illustrations of ornithology, Vol. 2. Dublin :Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, & Green, and S. Highley, [1826-1835]. Digitized by Smithsonian Libraries.

The first of these works, Illustrations of Ornithology, was a collaboration with fellow ornithologist Prideaux John Selby detailing non-British birds from around the world. Jardine and Selby saw a deficiency in previously published works on the subject, which typically only included an example from each genus. The work was organized mainly by Jardine, who also took on the Herculean task of obtaining the specimens from which the work’s illustrations would be produced. Jardine enlisted the help of 3 dealers, 12 collectors, and 4 naturalists from around the world in order to obtain the necessary specimens. The work was produced in three volumes from 1825 to 1835.

In 1848, Jardine embarked on what was to be his finest and last work, Contributions to Ornithology, an annual work which detailed recent advances in ornithology. Contributions was created from the efforts of multiple members of the Jardine clan. While Jardine was responsible for organizing the work and writing a majority of the text, he also had the assistance of his daughter Catherine’s husband, Hugh E. Strickland. Strickland helped expedite the production of the work while contributing multiple articles. It was Hugh E. Strickland himself that presented the Academy’s copy of Contributions to Ornithology.

Catherine was a keen illustrator and produced at least 42 of the 94 illustrations that appeared in Contributions. While Catherine had previously provided many illustrations for her father’s works, this was the first instance in which her initials appeared on the final printing.

Juvenile bird and eggs, drawn by Catherine Strickland. Jardine, William. Contributions to Ornithology, Vol. 5. Edinburgh :W.H. Lizars, 1848-1853. Digitized by the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, Library and Archives.

Jardine’s son William, a world traveler, sent his father many specimens to be included in the publication. Jardine’s brother in-law, W.H. Lizars, did the engravings.

The illustrations found in Contributions were perhaps the most remarkable element of the work. In addition to Catherine’s illustrations, Jardine also was responsible for some of the plates. It is also possible that one of Jardine’s other daughters, Helen, produced some plates or backgrounds for the work. The illustrations were created by a variety of means, including etching, lithography, and the relatively new papyrography. Jardine was so taken with the new method of papyrography that the first volume of Contributions included instructions on how the layman might achieve this method.

Crested owl (Lophostrix cristata) drawn by Catherine Strickland using papyrography. Her initials can be seen near the bottom of the illustration. Jardine, William. Contributions to Ornithology, Vol. 1. Edinburgh :W.H. Lizars, 1848-1853. Digitized by the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, Library and Archives.

The first article to appear in Contributions demonstrated Jardine’s desire and need for a plethora of new foreign bird specimens. “Hints for preparing and transmitting ornithological specimens from foreign countries” provided travelers, who might have previously abstained from collecting specimens due to lack of knowledge, with instruction on the tools and skills needed to produce bird specimens. Not only were step-by-step instructions on how to preserve birds provided, but also how to retain crucial observations about the bird.

Contributions also included articles by the who’s who of ornithologists of the day. John Gould contributed multiple times, including an article on three new species of hummingbirds, a topic on which he would later dedicate an entire work to. Charles Lucien Bonaparte, nephew of Napoleon, would also contribute a text on finches.

The production of Contributions was cut short in 1852 by the untimely death of Strickland, who had been struck by a train. His death devastated the two other principal organizers of the work, Jardine and Catherine Strickland. Jardine saw in Strickland a successor, someone who had the same interest in natural history that his sons did not. Jardine was so affected by Strickland’s death that he never produced another natural history work, only Strickland’s memoirs.

By Kelsey Manahan
Library Assistant 
Academy Library and Archives 
Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University

  • Jackson, Christine E. and Peter Davis. Sir William Jardine: A Life in Natural History. New York, NY: Leicester University Press, 2001. 
  • Jardine, William. Contributions to Ornithology. Edinburgh: W.H. Lizars,1848-1853. 
  • The Late Sir William Jardine. (1874). Nature, 11, p. 74.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Delaware Museum of Natural History

Image adapted from a photo by Jim, the Photographer. Original on Flickr.
(CC BY 2.0)


For over 40 years, the Delaware Museum of Natural History (DMNH) has promoted the study of nature, investigated the planet's flora and fauna, and educated the public with its world-class collections, which are particularly rich in mollusks and birds (DMNH's collection of bird eggs is the second-largest in North America).

"The Egg Collection"
Photo by Jim, the Photographer
on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Founded in 1957, the museum began as an idea in the mind of John duPont, heir to the DuPont Chemical fortune. An avid naturalist, duPont travelled the world and amassed a collection of 113,000 birds and 2 million seashells. He used a portion of land from his family's estate to found the museum that houses his collections. It opened to the public in 1972.

Long after his involvement with DMNH had ended, duPont moved his attention to athletics. He used some of his fortune to open a training center for Olympic athletes on his sprawling estate in Pennsylvania. The athletes, trainers, and coaches who worked for him were known as Team Foxcatcher and enjoyed considerable success. As years went on, however, duPont's behavior became increasingly erratic. His deterioration came to a head in January of 1996, when, for reasons unknown, he shot and killed his star wrestling coach, Olympic gold medalist Dave Schultz. This tragic story was (loosely) told in the 2014 film Foxcatcher.

Publications and Rare Books

Birds, shells, and mammals aren't the only things that John duPont put in the DMNH; he also contributed a library with an excellent collection of rare books. DMNH recently contributed some of these books to BHL through the Expanding Access to Biodiversity Literature (EABL) project, which works with organizations across the U.S. to digitize unique and valuable material. The DMNH-contributed books include rare works from the 18th century and publications by the museum, including several works by duPont himself. Below are some highlights; the complete list can be found here and here.

1. Index testarvm conchyliorvm quae adservantvr in mvseo Nicolai Gvaltieri (1742)

Niccolò Gualtieri was an Italian doctor, malacologist, and professor at the University of Pisa, whose collection of shells is the oldest in the university's natural history museum. Particularly noteworthy in his Index testarvm conchyliorvm are his descriptions of argonauts, also called paper nautiluses.

Plates from Gualtieri's Index: L: T.36, Conch shells (Strombidae);
R: T.18, Nautilus.

2. Woodpeckers of the World (Monograph Series No. 4, 1982)

Lester L. Short, born in 1933, is one of the world's foremost experts on woodpeckers (family Picidae). A former curator of birds at the American Museum of Natural History, Short travelled to over 60 countries documenting woodpeckers and in 1986 was one of the last people to see a Cuban Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Campephilus principalis bairdii, in the wild. The bird is now believed to be extinct. 

Short's Woodpeckers of the World was written with the encouragement and support of John duPont; in fact, duPont arranged for his illustrator, George Sandström, to work with Short to produce the 101 color plates in the book.

Ivory-billed Woodpeckers, illustrated by George Sandström.
From Woodpeckers of the World (1982), p. 621:

3. Philippine Birds (Monograph Series No. 2, 1971) 

John duPont wrote this book based on his own expeditions to the Philippines, beginning in 1958. In the foreword to the book, ornithologist Dean Amadon writes that "anyone who knows John duPont will realize that, once in the islands, he heads for the nearest mountains and jungles: he is not one to dawdle about in the gardens of local officials." Philippine Birds was written as an identification guide rather than a comprehensive work, with brief descriptions accompanying color illustrations by George Sandström.

Pittas (family Pittidae), illustrated by George Sandström.
From Philippine Birds (1971), plate 49:

Jean Woods, Curator of Birds at DMNH, worked with the EABL team to digitize these titles and get them into the BHL collection. Discussing the importance of putting them online, she said, “We’re excited to have the museum’s publications and rare books available through the Biodiversity Heritage Library to be used by researchers that have not previously had access to them.” She added that some of the titles, like Philippine Birds, have been out of print for years and that "many of the rare mollusk books contain original species descriptions which continue to be essential for taxonomic work." 

We are grateful to Jean and to the Delaware Museum of Natural History for so generously sharing their wealth of publications and rare books with the BHL community. 

By Patrick Randall
Community Manager
Expanding Access to Biodiversity Literature


About us. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Eckholm, E. (1986, May 5). Woodpecker, believed extinct, seen in Cuba. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Longman, J. (2010, December 9). John E. du Pont, heir who killed an Olympian, dies at 72. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Niccolò Gualtieri's splendid seashells. (2016, August 26). Retrieved from

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Ex. Ex. Marks the Spot: bringing together primary and secondary sources on the United States South Seas Exploring Expedition of 1838-1842

Written by Adriana Marroquin
Project Manager, BHL Field Notes Project and Smithsonian Field Book Project

The United States South Seas Exploring Expedition of 1838-1842 was authorized by Congress in 1836 to observe the Pacific Ocean and South Seas. The four-year voyage — also referred to as the Wilkes Expedition or Ex. Ex. for shorthand — covered an expansive geographic region, including the Pacific Northwest, Fiji Islands, and South America. The expedition was under the command of Lieutenant Charles Wilkes of the Unites States Navy, and the resulting collection is thought to be one of the largest early natural history collections, weighing in at an estimated 40 tons. The collection was transferred to the Smithsonian Institution in 1857 and established what would eventually become the National Museum of Natural History. A narrative of the expedition was published in 1844, with a multi-volume publication on the results of the expedition published later.
Wilkes, Charles. United States Exploring Expedition. During the year 1838, 1839, 1840, 1841, 1842. Vol. 1 (1845).

As we have mentioned before, it was an interest in identifying the original source material for the Ex. Ex. which really became a major incentive to establish what would become the Smithsonian Field Book Project. Over the course of the project, team members cataloged the Ex. Ex. field books in Smithsonian Institution Archives' collection. Now as the Smithsonian Field Book Project team participates in the BHL Field Notes Project, this collection of original expedition notes is being digitized and published in BHL, giving researchers a way to view related content in one place.

Brackenridge, William D. Original notebooks of the botanist, volumes 13 - 14, Fiji Islands group. (1838-1842)

One of the sets of material SIA has digitized as part of the BHL Field Notes Project are the notebooks of William D. Brackenridge. Brackenridge was a gardener and nurseryman from Scotland who moved to the United States in 1837. Brackenridge became part of the Ex. Ex. as a result of Asa Gray resigning as Botanist of the expedition to take an academic position at the newly established University of Michigan. With Gray’s departure, William Rich was promoted from Assistant Botanist to Botanist, and Brackenridge was brought on to fill the assistantship role.

Drayton, Joseph. Botany: Echinoderms, drawings by Joseph Drayton(1838-1839)

Also part of the expedition team were two illustrators, Joseph Drayton and Alfred T. Agate. As part of the BHL Field Notes Project, we have digitized a set of sea star and other marine drawings by Drayton. The drawings include a signature and date, and often additional notes on the location where the specimen was found. As far as we can tell, these illustrations were not used for reference in the multi-volume Expedition publication, making this set of drawings a particularly good example of how field notes can inform research in conjunction with traditionally published material.

Smithsonian Institution Archives still has several field books from the Ex. Ex. to digitize for the BHL Field Notes Project, so be sure to check back over the next few months to see our whole set.

The BHL Field Notes Project is funded by the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR).

Finding Aid for “SIA RU007189, Brackenridge, William D (William Dunlop) 1810-1893, William Dunlop Brackenridge Papers, circa 1838-1875” 

Finding Aid for “SIA RU007186, United States Exploring Expedition (1838-1842), United States Exploring Expedition Collection, 1838-1885”

Philbrick, Nathaniel. “The Scientific Legacy of the U.S. Exploring Expedition.” The United States Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842, a Smithsonian Libraries Digital Collection. 

Walsh, Dr. Jane. “From the Ends of the Earth: The United States Exploring Expedition Collections”.” The United States Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842, a Smithsonian Libraries Digital Collection. 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Report on the XIX International Botanical Congress, Shenzhen, China, July 2017

XIX IBC 2017

By Martin R. Kalfatovic
BHL Program Director

Along with BHL Program Manager Carolyn Sheffield, I represented BHL as a delegate to the XIX International Botanical Congress in Shenzhen, China. Held during the week of 24-28 July 2017, the Congress (which is held every five years) drew over 6,000 botanists from around the world.

The Congress provided an excellent opportunity to catch up with colleagues from around the world and learn about some of the latest botanical research.


IBC logos on Shenzhen skyline

The program was divided into plenary talks, keynote talks, general symposia, and public lectures (see abstracts for all here). The Congress opened with a public lecture by Peter H. Raven, President Emeritus of the Missouri Botanical Garden. Raven's talk, "Saving Plants to Save Ourselves: The Shenzhen Declaration" was on the public announcement of the Shenzhen Declaration on Plant Sciences. Authored by fourteen illustrious botanists that formed the Shenzhen Declaration Drafting Committee, the declaration is an important statement on the role of plant science in a changing world. The declaration opens with:

"Actions and priorities to connect the global community of plant scientists with the world’s changing societies are today more imperative than ever. Environmental degradation, unsustainable resource use, and biodiversity loss all require integrated, collaborative solutions."

Noting the changing world we inhabit, the change evidenced by increased species extinction, global climate change, rapid changes in the practice of plant science, and refactoring of the world's economy, the declaration outlines seven priorities for strategic action in the plant sciences. These priorities will "allow society, with the help of science, to mitigate impacts of human activities on plant species, habitats, and distributions, and to approach formation of a sustainable world for ourselves and those who follow us."

These seven priorities are:

  • To become responsible scientists and research communities who pursue plant sciences in the context of a changing world. 
  • To enhance support for the plant sciences to achieve global sustainability. 
  • To cooperate and integrate across nations and regions and to work together across disciplines and cultures to address common goals. 
  • To build and use new technologies and big data platforms to increase exploration and understanding of nature. 
  • To accelerate the inventory of life on Earth for the wise use of nature and the benefit of humankind.  
  • To value, document, and protect indigenous, traditional, and local knowledge about plants and nature. 
  • To engage the power of the public with the power of plants through greater participation and outreach, innovative education, and citizen science. 

Raven's inspiring talk on the Declaration was a brilliant opening to the Congress (and was touched upon by nearly all speakers for the remainder of the Congress) and concluded with a rousing call to action: "Let us make this Congress a time of commitment to do better and resolutely seek a sound and sustainable future for all people."

Sandra Knapp

Another public lecture of note was by Sandra Knapp (Natural History Museum, London): "People and Plants -- the Unbreakable Bond". Knapp noted "Plants form the scaffold for Earth’s green ecosystems, but they are also essential for human survival. Plants provide most of the food we eat (directly or indirectly), our medicines, clothes, buildings, and even the air we breathe; they also beautify our daily lives." Knapp further detailed the importance of plants to humans and then pivoted to ask, "So we need plants, but do they need us?" Knapp's answer was yes:

"In this time of increasing human impact on plants, animals and natural habitats, our actions can make a big difference in whether plants are a part of an ecological civilization for the future. Plants do in fact need us - they need us to study and use them responsibly, both as scientists and as members of human societies."


The Congress presented a number of excellent keynote and plenary talks. Of special note were the following:

"Tropical Plant-Animal Interactions: Coevolution in the Anthropocene" by W. John Kress (Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History). Kress illustrated his talk with research on the interaction of beetles, humming birds, and Zingiberales (including bananas, birds-of-paradise, heliconias, gingers, and prayer plants). Kress concluded with, "The geographic mosaic of these relationships across tropical islands, fragmented landscapes, and elevational gradients suggests that human-caused habitat alterations, biological invasions, and climate change may significantly modify and disrupt through time and space the historical patterns of ecological interactions. The future of today’s biological complexity in the Age of Humans, in the Anthropocene, remains to be determined."

W. John Kress

"International developments and responsibilities for the botanical community in plant conservation" by Peter Wyse Jackson (Missouri Botanical Garden). Wyse Jackson provided a high level overview of the importance of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC), part of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, and showed how individual institutions can help achieve the 2020 targets of the GSPC. He specifically noted how the Missouri Botanical Garden is working in the areas of conservation biology, ecological restoration, community conservation and education programs, horticulture and ex situ conservation towards this end. The World Flora Online project, based at the Missouri Botanical Garden and with partners worldwide, was previewed at the Congress and is a first target of the GSPC.

Peter Wyse Jackson

"Mapping Asia Plants" by Keping Ma (Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences). Ma provided an excellent overview of a number of resources that are helping to document plant life in Asia. Ma commented, "Because of the huge population and rapid growth of economy, biodiversity including plants are being seriously threatened in Asia." He also detailed the work of the Asia Biodiversity Conservation and Databases Network (ABCDNet) project, entitled Mapping Asia Plants for cataloguing species of plants and collecting distribution data. The importance of the Biodiversity Heritage Library China (BHL China) in providing access to literature was noted.

Keping Ma

"Developing integrative systematics in the informatics and genomic era" by Jun Wen (Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History). "Systematics is the science of discovering, organizing and interpreting the diversity of all living organisms on Earth. Recent developments in genomics and biodiversity informatics are transforming systematics and have opened up many new opportunities." With that statement, Wen outlined the opportunities of big data, digitization, and genomics in developing the tree of life. The wider importance of this work was driven home as Wen noted "integrative systematics must proactively educate the public and policy makers on the importance of systematics and collections in the biodiversity crisis of the Anthropocene."

Jun Wen

"Thinking through the e- in e-Floras; or, Floras old, new, and not-yet" by Kevin Thiele (Western Australian Herbarium). Thiele delivered an provocative talk that touched upon the very core of how plant scientists do their work and to what level much of the scientific output is wedded to 19th century methods of dissemination while we are living well into the 21st century. He illustrated this with how many "e-floras" simply reproduce print methodologies. He challenged the audience to consider, "If modern taxonomy and systematics were invented, or re-invented, now (in the age of the internet, social media, citizen science and the block chain), rather than in the 18th Century, would we do it all differently?"

Kevin Thiele

In perhaps the most inspirational talk of the Congress, Stephen Blackmore (Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh) spoke on the seemingly simple topic, "Saving Plants". Blackmore drew on his personal experience in Pearl River Delta area to tie together the different sectors and stakeholders that are needed to create a world where plants, and by extension, humans, can both survive and thrive. Blackmore focused on the contributions of botanic gardens, arboreta, seed banks and other collections of living and preserved plants to achieve the goal of saving plants. Blackmore ended on the note that "we will need to work closely together if we are to succeed in passing on the Earth’s rich, green inheritance to future generations."

Stephen Blackmore


Speakers at the BHL Symposium

For the Congress, I, along with Carolyn Sheffield, organized a general symposium, "The Biodiversity Heritage Library: Empowering Discovery through Free Access to Biodiversity Knowledge" with colleagues from the Biodiversity Heritage Library's global partners. Presenters at the symposium were:


Many familiar colleagues participated in the General Symposium, "Green digitization: online botanical collections data answering real-world questions", organized by Shelley A James (Florida Museum of Natural History, USA) and Gil Nelson (Florida State University, USA).

Talks at the symposium included:

  • Rebranding botanical collections: Global societal and biodiversity data needs for novel research | Shelley James 
  • Invasive or Not? A collection-based investigation of a historically unseen, persistent green algal bloom on Pacific coral reefs | Tom Schils [unable to present] 
  • Current status and the applications of online botanical collection data in China | Zheping Xu 
  • Virtual Herbaria tracking usage and benefits for biological collections: An example from Australasia | David Cantrill 
  • Developing standards for scoring phenology from herbarium specimens | Jenn Yost 
  • From field collections to digital data: A workflow and digitization pipeline for reconstruction of a fossil flora | Dori Contreras [delivered in abstentia] 


Artron (photo by Ivan Lee @ Artron)

A number of excursions were organized for delegates. I participated in one excursion that highlighted the hi-tech industry that has led to Shenzhen growing from a small fishing village to a world-class city with a population of 15 million in less than 40 years. The first stop was at UBTECH, a robotics start-up company that markets a robot that can interact with digital assistants (such as the Amazon Alexa). The next stop was Nirvana for this former art librarian: Artron, a world-class printer that produces art books and catalogs for the museums and galleries of the world. We visited their library and exhibition spaces. The focal point of the facility was the "Wall of Art Books." Over 150,000 art books are on display in a four story space (that has to be experience to be believed). All books are available to view by members of the Artron private library. We visited the private library, consisting of 20 themed rooms (e.g. "Japanese Vintage Books" and "The Business of Art") as well as the main reading room with a touch pad catalog where readers can page books (after pre-viewing full-text digitized versions). After leaving the Artron facility, I couldn't help but imagine this is how the brick and mortar library of the future will look.

My second excursion was more on a botanical point. The Fairy Lake Botanical Garden is a 546 ha botanical garden which compares favorably with the great gardens of the world. First stop was the shade garden and butterfly pavilion, followed by the Fairy Lake and the palm area. We also had the opportunity to visit the National Cycad Conservation Center, which includes a fabulous collection of cycads from around the world and also a fossil collection. The Fairy Lake Botanical Garden also has a spectacular petrified forest area, with huge amounts of petrified wood that have been "planted" to look like a forest. We also stopped in at the Shenzhen Paleontological Museum (some dinosaurs and nice trilobites, my favorite extinct invertebrate!).

With Sandra Knapp and Peter Raven

The Congress featured a mid-week Gala that provided an opportunity to recognize the work of organizers and the program committee. The Gala also showcased a wide variety of Chinese entertainment that ranged from classical instrumentalists, to dancers and acrobats, to a Chinese doo-wop group. The accompanying buffet featured a number of tasty offerings.


The XIX International Botanical Congress was a unique opportunity for the Biodiversity Heritage Library to meet with colleagues from around the world (and from down the hall) to discuss important issues related to plant science and how we, as librarians, can work with plant scientists to accelerate their work and to achieve the aspirational goals as outlined in the Shenzhen Declaration.

XIX IBC 2017 at Night

Friday, August 4, 2017

Update re: Internet Archive Outage 8/4/2017.

UPDATE: Internet Archive is back online. Page images are now correctly displaying in BHL. If you experience continued issues, please submit feedback.

Thank you for your patience!


Status Posted 7:30am ET on 8/4/2017:
Internet Archive is experiencing an outage on 4 August 2017. As a result, page images are not displaying in BHL. We apologize for the inconvenience, and we will update this post and social media as the status changes. Thank you for your patience and #StayTuned.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Deconstructing Ecological Mirages with Help from Historic Literature

Within South America’s coastal ecosystems, vast expanses of subtropical and temperate salt marshes are dominated by an iconic species, the smooth salt marsh cordgrass Spartina alterniflora. This species is an important ecological engineer, providing habitats for a wide range of species and shaping the environmental evolution of many coastal ecosystems worldwide.

S. alterniflora is considered native to a wide latitude of the Atlantic coastline from Canada to Argentina, and the Patagonian salt marshes that it dominates are deemed pristine native ecosystems.

However, according to Dr. Alejandro Bortolus, a coastal ecologist, Head of the Grupo de Ecología en Ambientes Costeros at IPEEC-CONICET, and Co-Chair of the X International Conference on Marine Bioinvasions, this is an ecological mirage.

“Although wild and overwhelmingly beautiful, Patagonia is anything but pristine,” asserts Bortolus. “However, the general public and international scientific communities have largely embraced this mythic image of an untouched remote region in the uttermost ends of the Earth. They have come to believe in what I call ‘ecological mirage.’”

Dr. Alejandro Bortolus, during a field trip to the Patagonian salt marshes of San Antonio Bay, completely dominated by the invasive smooth cordgrass Spartina alterniflora. Photo by Dr. Yanina Idaszkin.

For more than a decade, Bortolus and his colleagues have been examining historic records and accounts from early settlers and naturalists, leading to the conclusion that S. alterniflora was actually introduced to South America in the 18th or early 19th century as a result of human activity, transforming what were once intertidal mudflats into the salt marshes seen today.

Bortolus describes this transformation within the Ecological Mirage Hypothesis.

“The Ecological Mirage Hypothesis proposes that a long overlooked historical event -- where an exotic species is introduced to a given region but then mis-interpreted for centuries as native -- may cause unexpected radical shifts in the evolution of the affected ecosystems,” explains Bortolus. “Under such circumstances, even those landscapes deeply associated with the culture and history of a region might not be as pristine as we were led to believe.”

Of course, proposing that these iconic, “pristine” salt marshes are in fact dominated by an introduced bioengineer species has widespread implications. Bortolus and his colleagues, James Carlton and Evangelina Schwindt, needed extensive evidence to support their theory.

The Biodiversity Heritage Library proved to be an invaluable resource for obtaining this evidence, providing easy access to essential rare literature and historic records.

“The review in which the Ecological Mirage Hypothesis was proposed (Bortolus et al. 2015) took nearly a decade to complete,” explains Bortolus. “BHL helped to speed up the work considerably by supplying us with high-quality material impossible to obtain from other sources, including rare first editions, old newspapers, reports, and church accounts, settlers’ diaries, interviews, and personal letters, etc. All of the material is available for anyone to check, double-check and check again from any personal computer in what I consider a portable magical library.”

Bortolus (right foreground with his son Ivan in the backback) leading a research team during the first classification of intertidal environments at Monte Leon National Park, the first National Park with open sea coast in Argentina. Photo by Evan Schwindt.

Bortolus has been studying coastal ecology for over thirty years. His doctoral project involved the first manipulative experiments explicitly focused on the plant-animal interactions shaping the salt marshes of southern South America, including the first experimental evidence recording that herbivore crabs can significantly affect Spartina plants' production and reproduction. Over his career, he also provided the first comparative description of the Patagonian salt marshes, including the “rocky salt marshes” - a unique intertidal hard-bottom ecosystem dominated and characterized by Spartina species. His projects also cover the problems caused by the deficient use of Taxonomy in ecological studies (the "Eco-Taxo Interface").

Neohelice granulata, a semi-terrestrial intertidal herbivore and burrowing crab species studied by Bortolus during his doctorate. Photo by A. Bortolus.

BHL has been supporting Bortolus’ work since he first discovered it around 2007 after a routine Internet keyword search led him to the Library.

“I was astonished by the fact that BHL could provide me not only with classic records two or three centuries old, but also with publications written by Argentina’s pioneers of Botany, some of which I was struggling to find in the libraries of my own country,” lauds Bortolus. “In a matter of seconds, meticulously scanned publications supplied by some of the largest scientific institutions worldwide were there for me to use…and for free!”

Today, Bortolus uses BHL regularly as part of his research process. The Library has significantly improved the efficiency of his work.

“Before I discovered BHL, I was sending paper cards through the regular international mail to request the literature I needed - a process that normally took between 6 and 9 months for me to get the material (if I succeeded at all),” recalls Bortolus. “BHL is an excellent, unique initiative that creates a virtuous circle in which scientific knowledge is available to those who need it the most, helping them to produce more knowledge and bridging geographic and cultural frontiers as if they don't exist.”

The information Bortolus has gleaned from BHL not only provides a new understanding of the forces that shaped South America’s coastal ecosystems over the last centuries, but also underscores the importance of historical documents when designing conservation strategies to protect “native” species. “Natural” is not always what it seems.

“Historical records make one realize that even the most significant scientific findings can fade away, independently of how revealing they are,” explains Bortolus. “I feel that finding and bringing back those forgotten discoveries and ideas to analyze and re-discuss them is one of my highest responsibilities as a scientist. For anyone trying to achieve that goal, BHL is a dream come true.”

Bortolus in Canada during a visit searching for invasive austral cordgrass Spartina densiflora, invited by US Fish and Wildlife Service ecologist Andrea Pickart. Photo by A. Pickart.

Learn more about Bortolus’ work in these publications (

  • Bortolus, A. and Schwindt E. 2007. What would have Darwin written now? Biodiversity and Conservation. 16:337–345 
  • Bortolus, A., J.T. Carlton and E. Schwindt. 2016. Biological Invasions change the way we see Nature. Bare Essentials.1-5. 
  •  Bortolus, A., J.T. Carlton and E. Schwindt. 2015. Reimagining South American coasts: unveiling the hidden invasion history of an iconic ecological engineer. Diversity and Distributions. 21:1267-1283.
Learn more about the X International Conference on Marine Bioinvasions, which will be held in Puerto Madryn from 16-18 October 2018, here:

By Grace Costantino
Outreach and Communication Manager
Biodiversity Heritage Library

This post may contain the personal opinions of BHL users or affiliated staff and does not necessarily represent the official Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) position on these matters.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

In-copyright Titles from the 2nd quarter of 2017

From April to June of this year, BHL received permission for 36 new in-copyright titles, keeping pace with the 39 added in the first quarter. The Expanding Access to Biodiversity Literature project, BHL staff, and new members and affiliates all contributed to securing permission and are now working to scan and upload. To put that 36 number in perspective, there are about 650 in-copyright titles in BHL, out of 125,000 total--that's just a half percent, but it's growing!

BHL licenses content under a
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 license

Below are the 36 titles added in the second quarter, in the order permission was secured. For those that have already been scanned or uploaded, links are available. Look for the rest as they're added to the collection; you can check the recent additions, or see all the permission titles available in BHL on the permissions page. Titles in BHL have been digitized/contributed by the rights holders unless otherwise stated.

1. North Carolina Biological Survey and the North Carolina State Museum of Natural Sciences
  • A Distributional Survey of North Carolina Mammals
  • The Seaside Sparrow, Its Biology and Management
  • Atlas of North American Freshwater Fishes (with supplement)
  • Autumn Land-bird Migration on the Barrier Islands of Northeastern North Carolina
  • Endangered, Threatened, and Rare Fauna of North Carolina (Parts I-IV)
  • Research Vessel Dan Moore station logs
  • Bird Life of North Carolina's Shining Rock Wilderness
  • Fourth Colloquium on Conservation of Mammals of the Southeastern U.S.
6. Dr. Peter Shaw Ashton
  • Canotia (Digitized by The New York Botanical Garden, LuEsther T. Mertz Library)
  • Newsletter

  • Hardy Fern Foundation Newsletter
  • Hardy Fern Foundation Quarterly
  • Bulletin
  • Sempervirens
11. Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

  • Urban Horticulture Presents
  • Urban Horticulture
  • Camas Quarterly
  • E-Flora
  • Carnivorous Plant Newsletter
Thank you to the individuals and organizations who have so generously given permission for these titles in support of open access. If there's a title you'd like to see in BHL, let us know here. And don't forget to follow BHL on Facebook, Twitter (@BioDivLibrary), Instagram, Pinterest, and Tumblr.