Tag Archives: iCollections

A Flutter of Data | Digital Collections Programme

iCollections canvas

Examples of some of the Lepidoptera specimens available on the Data Portal.

The final batch of data from the iCollections project has now been released through the Museum’s Data Portal – a total of 260,000 Lepidoptera specimen records, bringing the total number of Museum specimen records accessible on the Portal to just over 3.8 million.

What was iCollections?

In 2013 the Museum started to look at the best way to digitise Butterflies and Moths from the UK and Ireland, a collection estimated at half a million specimens. This was a pilot project to develop quick and efficient ways to digitise large Museum collections.

Digitisation Workflow

During the pilot project we trialled and adapted methods of image capture to suit the specimens, giving us an efficient workflow which can be used to digitise wider pinned insect collections. We place each specimen in a specially designed unit tray, with raised sides where we position the specimen’s labels and add a barcode encoded with the unique specimen number. We place each tray in a light box under a DSLR camera to capture an image containing the majority of specimen data. These images are ingested into a bespoke database, which allows species name and location (within the collection) to be added to the file. The database transcription interface lets us add additional data from labels.

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We photograph each specimen and its labels, and data is then added to the record via a transcription interface.

During the iCollections project, we became much more efficient with the time taken to photograph a single specimen, whilst ensuring that the damage to these precious specimens from handling is kept to a minimum. We digitised the entire butterfly collection of over 180,000 specimens and made a significant start on the moths by digitising over 260,000 specimens.

In 2016 we secured further funding to carry on the digitisation of the British and Irish moths with our refined workflow. Once this has been completed, further data will be released on the Data Portal. When complete we will have just over half a million Lepidoptera specimens accessible to anyone in the world with an internet connection. This enhances access to our collection, which traditionally will have been via visits or specimen loans. In some cases the researcher may only require a digital specimen, or the digital records could help a researcher narrow down the scope of what they may want to study on a visit to the museum.

iCollections enabled us to come up with an efficient and bespoke workflow for pinned insects which we have been able to re-use. We have published a paper on the iCollections method, to share this with the natural history community. We have also used the learning from iCollections to start new projects, such as our current project to digitise Madagascan Lepidoptera type specimens.

Why Butterflies and Moths? 

The British Lepidoptera collection contains over half a million pinned specimens collected in the UK and Ireland spanning over 200 years. It includes donations from important collectors of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. As we digitise the Lepidoptera collections we are georeferencing each record, mapping the distribution of species and revealing collecting trends since the mid-nineteenth century.

By providing access to this unrivalled historical, taxonomic and geographical data we can equip more scientists to conduct new research in new ways. For example, Museum scientists, Steve Brooks et al. have been able to compare butterfly data to historical temperature records and found that 92% of the 51 species emerged earlier in years with higher spring temperatures.

‘The warming climate is already causing butterflies to emerge earlier – and unless their food plants adapt at the same rate, the insects could emerge too early to survive.’ (S.Brooks et al., 2016)

When it comes to digitising Lepidoptera, our digitisers can now process up to 300 a day. They get to see and interact with the specimens up close and become extremely fast with a pair of forceps! Our digitiser Peter Wing told us “My favourite image to digitise was a Monarch Butterfly that was pinned with a sewing needle.” While digitising, we uncover some fascinating stories behind the collection. We have been sharing some of these enlightening moments by using #MothMonday on twitter.

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Our digitiser Peter with his favourite specimen

Who’s using our data?

We are on a mission to digitise the Museum collection of 80 million specimens. We want to make available our unrivalled historical, geographic and taxonomic specimen data gathered in the last 250 years available to the global scientific community. These data, along with associated specimen images are released through the Museum’s Data Portal.

Through the Data Portal and those of our partners like the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), more than 5.9 billion records have been accessed in over 115,500 downloads since April 2015. Through GBIF we are also able to see which scientists are using our data as part of their papers and through Altmetric how many people are talking about our data online. So far we have been cited in 44 papers and referenced over 100 times online.

The Data Portal currently has around 200 non-museum users each day and contains more than 700,000 species-level (index lot) records and over 90 research datasets uploaded by NHM staff and other institutions. This includes 3D scans, images and audio recordings as well as more traditional data.

Critical information is currently locked away within hundreds of millions of specimens, labels and archives in collections across the globe. Our ultimate goal is to unlock this treasure trove of information so that scientists, researchers and data analysts from around the world can use this information to tackle some of the big questions of our time.

To make use of the Museum’s iCollections data please visit the Data Portal To hear more stories behind the Lepidoptera collection you can follow our #MothMonday content on twitter or keep up to date with the Museum’s digitisation projects on the website.

Our butterfly and moth data takes flight! | Digital Collections Programme

Our previous blog post looked at preparing the Lepidoptera for digitisation. In this post, we will look at the second part of the digitisation process; the imaging and transcription that allows data to be set free and accessed by the global science audience on the Museum’s Data Portal.

Photo showing a DSLR camera on a mount, with a tray containing a pinned butterfly speciment beneath the lens. The butterfly and accompanying scale bar and labels is visible on a computer screen to the right.

The imaging equipment set up to digitise the Lepidoptera collection

Let’s find out what’s involved and why it’s leading to new ways of accessing and using the information in our collections. Continue reading

Preparing Lepidoptera for Digitisation | Digital Collections Programme

We are working to digitise more than half a million British and Irish butterflies and moths. Our three year iCollections project started in 2013, and we have received additional funding from the Cockayne Trust to continue this digitisation work to September 2017.

Photograph from above of a drawer filled with vertical columns of the butterflies pinned to the base, with paper labels in the top and bottom left, and the bottom right.

Original drawer with Mullein (Cuculblia verbasci) specimens.

The mass digitisation of this collection has given Museum scientists the opportunity to study these specimens in new ways. In addition to research carried out in the Museum, digitisation also allows anyone around the world to see the specimens via the Data Portal. Continue reading

Past legacy sheds light on the future | Digital Collections Programme

The butterflies and moths amassed by avid collectors Dr EA Cockayne, Dr HBD Kettlewell and Lord Walter Rothschild make up the core of the Museum’s world famous collection of British and Irish Lepidoptera.

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Small copper butterflies that have been digitised and rehoused as part of the project

The Museum is digitising the Lepidoptera collection and using the data to ask important scientific questions about the effects of environmental change. Dr Cockayne passion led him to form the Cockayne Trust for Lepidoptera research, his legacy is funding the digitisation.

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Digital butterfly data takes flight | Digital Collections Programme

The Museum’s entire collection of  181,545 British and Irish butterflies are now in a digital form and available for all to see online in the Museum’s Data Portal.

Photo from overhead of the drawer containing 9 columns of brightly coloured butterflies with their accompanying QR code labels.

A specimen drawer of common clouded yellow butterflies (Colias croceus). The new barcodes created as part of the Museum’s iCollections digitisation project are visible.

Each butterfly has a new digital image and digital record of the specimen’s collector, place and date of collection and this data are already being used to work out the effects of climate change on UK butterflies.

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Why georeferencing is the most important thing for the Museum since sliced bread | Digital Collections Programme

The ‘spatial wealth’ of the Museum’s collections is often ignored or at best under-appreciated. Most specimens if not all have a spatial locality associated with them, either written on to a label, written in a notebook, or on the specimen.

Close crop of a photo of a drawer of pinned clouded yellow butterflies with QR code and hand written labels visible

Digitising the Museum’s collections will let us unlock and share a treasure trove of information about our 80 million specimens

These localities can vary between very precise (e.g. a GPS-based latitude/longitude), very imprecise (e.g. ‘South America’) or, most likely, somewhere in-between. Most specimens within the Museum do not have a latitude and longitude, but do have detailed locality information on the accompanying label, which can be used to define co-ordinates for that specimen. So what is georeferencing, why do we need it, and how do we use it?

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