NSF’s Emerging Frontiers: Advancing Digitization of Biodiversity Collections

Title: Digitization TCN: Collaborative: The Microfungi Collections Consortium: A Networked Approach to Digitizing Small Fungi with Large Impacts on the Function and Health of Ecosystems

Principal Investigator at UW-Madison: MaryAnn Feist

ABSTRACT - Microscopic fungi (microfungi) represent a diverse assemblage that is distributed worldwide and includes bread molds, plant pathogens, powdery mildews, rusts, slime molds, and water molds. A large percentage of these organisms are harmless or even beneficial, but some cause disease and death in animals, plants, and other fungi resulting in major economic loss and serious negative implications for human and ecosystem health. Despite their importance, little is known about their distribution, diversity, ecology, or host associations. This project is a collaborative effort involving 38 institutions in 31 states and aims to consolidate data from specimens housed in biodiversity collections for 2.3 million microfungi specimens and make these data available through online resources. The consolidation and increased accessibility of these data is critical to inform and promote new and innovative research, education and community engagement around this little-known but important group of organisms.

Specimen data generated by this project will be used to assess natural and human-induced environmental changes on microfungi distributions, and evaluate the impact of these changes on the function and health of ecosystems. This project fills a critical gap in the national digitization effort by contributing images, digitizing specimen label data, and linking associated ancillary data for over 1.2 million North American specimens of microfungi. Additionally, nomenclature and taxonomic information will be updated to reflect the newest practices as dictated by the International Codes for Nomenclature. These data will provide a foundation for making informed decisions by agribusinesses, educators, forest managers, government agencies, horticulturalists, policy makers, researchers, and the general public. The broader education goals of this project will be facilitated through the development and implementation of a teaching module for high school biology on the economic importance of microfungi. This award is made as part of the National Resource for Digitization of Biological Collections through the Advancing Digitization of Biological Collections program and all data resulting from this award will be available through the national resource (

Visit the Microfungi TCN Portal


NSF’s Emerging Frontiers: Advancing Digitization of Biodiversity Collections

Title: (TCN) Collaborative: Documenting the Occurrence through Space & Time of Aquatic Non-indigenous Fish, Mollusks, Algae, & Plants Threatening North America's Great Lakes

Link to Project Page

PI (Principal Investigator): Kenneth Cameron, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Collaborating Award PIs: Andrew Simons, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities; Christine Niezgoda, Field Museum of Natural History; Loy Phillippe, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Christopher Taylor, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; David Seigler, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Kevin Cummings, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Brenda Molano-Flores, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Marymegan Daly, Ohio State University; George Watters, Ohio State University; John Freudenstein, Ohio State University; Andrew Hipp, Morton Arboretum; Melissa Tulig, New York Botanical Garden; Richard Rabeler, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; Thomas Duda, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

ABSTRACT - One of the greatest threats to the health of North America's Great Lakes is invasion by exotic species, several of which already have had catastrophic impacts on property values, the fisheries, shipping, and tourism industries, and continue to threaten the survival of native species and wetland ecosystems. Additional species have been placed on watchlists because of their potential to become aquatic invasives. This project will create a network of herbaria and zoology museums from among the Great Lakes states of MN, WI, IL, IN, MI, OH, and NY to better document the occurrence of these species in space and time by imaging and providing online access to the information on the specimens of the critical organisms. Several initiatives are already in place to alert citizens to the dangers of spreading aquatic invasives among our nation's waterways, but this project will develop complementary scientific and educational tools for scientists, students, wildlife officers, teachers, and the public who have had little access to images or data derived directly from preserved specimens collected over the past three centuries.

This bi-national Thematic Collections Network of >25 institutions from eight states and Canada will digitize 1.73 million historical specimens representing 2,550 species of exotic fish, clams, snails, mussels, algae, plants, and their look-alikes documented to occur in the Great Lakes Basin. It is one of the first efforts to digitize liquid preserved specimens and to integrate cross-kingdom taxa and these methods could become national standards for cross taxon digitization. Students will be provided with hands-on experience in modern methods of specimen curation and this cross-taxon network will provide greater flexibility to existing web platforms for integration of data. This award is made as part of the National Resource for Digitization of Biological Collections through the Advancing Digitization of Biological Collections program and all data resulting from this award will be available through the national resource (


NSF's Dimensions of Biodiversity

Dimensions: Roles of functional, phylogenetic, and genetic diversity in structuring and sustaining plant communities through environmental change


PIs:  Ken Cameron (WIS), Tom Givnish, Ken Sytsma, & Don Waller

ABSTRACT - Plant diversity underlies the productivity of ecosystems on land but is declining for complex and obscure reasons.  To better understand the causes of changes in plant diversity, we are investigating its ecological and evolutionary determinants and what factors affect the ability of individual species to persist in landscapes subject to climate change, habitat fragmentation, and human disturbance in Wisconsin, where remarkably detailed data exist on shifts in the distribution, abundance, and diversity of forest and prairie plants over the past 50+ years.  We are using DNA sequences to reconstruct relationships across the entire flora and quantify functionally significant traits across several hundred species, to provide a basis for assessing what ecological and evolutionary factors underlie historic shifts in species abundance and distribution. We are using analyses of genome size and genetic variation in a subset of species to assess how dispersal and population dynamics also affect geographic range, habitat fragmentation, and landscape dynamics.  Data on historical community changes and detailed climate projections are being used to predict likely future changes in range and abundance for both native and weedy exotic plants.  This project integrates, therefore, our understanding of how plant traits evolve, how traits relate to ecological success, and how traits interact with phylogeny, genome size, and landscape conditions to affect species persistence and weedy plant invasions.


NSF’s Division of Arctic Programs

Toward Documenting Biodiversity Change in Arctic Lichens: Databasing the Principal Collections, Establishing a Baseline, & Developing a Virtual Flora

PIs:  Ken Cameron, Tom Nash, & Corinna Gries (WIS) Steffi Ickert-Bond & Barbara Murray (ALA)

ABSTRACT - NSF’s Division of Arctic Programs has awarded a collaborative grant to the Wisconsin State Herbarium (WIS) and the University of Alaska’s Museum (ALA) in Fairbanks to provide baseline biodiversity inventory data for one of the most important elements of the Arctic biota – lichens.  These symbiotic organisms are highly sensitive to environmental change, and have been used for decades as bioindicators to monitor air pollution, including fluctuating levels of sulfur dioxide and even radioactive isotopes.  Their past, current, and future patterns of distribution in Arctic and Subarctic ecosystems are likely to be reflective of significant ecosystem change in temperature, water and nutrient cycling, as well as population dynamics of migratory animals such as caribou.  Most of the data concerning current and historical distributions of Arctic lichens presently resides in the literature and within the large natural history collections of North America.  These data are generally overlooked, underappreciated, and rarely accessed by the ecologists, conservationists, climatologists, and wildlife biologists who need them most.  We are converting these data into electronic format in order to make them readily and freely available to all through the use of powerful biodiversity-informatics tools.  Two of the largest collections of Arctic lichens reside in the herbaria of the University of Alaska Museum in Fairbanks, which is estimated to hold >20,000 Arctic lichens within its collection of 0.2 million specimens, and the University of Wisconsin State Herbarium in Madison, which curates >53,000 Arctic lichens within its collection of 1.2 million specimens.  The lichens of this latter collection were amassed over 40 years by Dr. J.W. Thomson (1913-2009) who devoted his career at WIS to Arctic lichenology.  That dedication culminated in the publication of three voluminous publications on the taxonomy of American Arctic lichens, a portion of which is now out-of-date.  Together we are identifying specimens, updating nomenclature, barcoding, georeferencing, and databasing this pair of world-class collections.  At the same time, an updated checklist of all Arctic & Subarctic lichen species has been generated, photographs and illustrations digitized, and taxonomic characters for each species coded for use in the creation of dynamic taxonomic keys and species descriptions.  Together, this massive set of data is being integrated using the Symbiota software package to generate an online virtual Flora of Arctic Lichens that can be accessed on the web at  


NSF's Advancing the Digitization of Biological Collections (ADBC) 

Plants, Herbivores and Parasitoids: A Model System for the Study of Tri-Trophic Associations

Co-PI: Ken Cameron (WIS) and others

ABSTRACT - All the nearly 20,000 plant species in North America are attacked by insect pests, including those in the group Hemiptera (known as the "true bugs"), which are in turn attacked by parasitoid insects in the Hymenoptera (sawflies, wasps, ants), widely used for biological control of agricultural pests. This project will unify some eight million records in 34 collections to answer how the distributions and phenologies of the plants, pests and parasitoids relate to each other, in a Tri-Trophic Databasing and imaging project--the TTD. Data from this approach will benefit basic scientific questions and practical applications in the agricultural sciences, conservation biology, ecosystem studies and climate change and biogeography research. Technological tools and methods will be introduced to graduate students, affiliated universities, and grant-sponsored students from other institutions through a short course. A data-mining and species-distribution modeling symposium at the University of California-Riverside will foster interactions between systematics and ecological researchers, and explore the TTD as a platform for instruction and inquiry. visit the tri-trophic TCN website



NSF's Thematic Collections Networks (TCN): Advancing the Digitization of Biological Collections

North American Lichens and Bryophytes: Sensitive Indicators of Environmental Quality and Change

PIs: Corinna Gries, Tom Nash (WIS) and others

ABSTRACT - Lichens and bryophytes (mosses and their relatives) are sensitive indicators of environmental change, and are dominant organisms in arctic-alpine and desert habitats, where the effects of climate change are well-documented. This project will image about 2.3 million North American lichen and bryophyte specimens from more than 60 collections to address questions of how species distributions change after major environmental events, both in the past and projected into the future. Large-scale distribution mapping will help identify regions where such changes are likely, fostering programs designed to protect these organisms. Awardees plan to build and enhance a national volunteer community, and provide online seminars, extensive online training materials, and local workshops and field trips.  visit the lichen-bryophyte TCN website