Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Historical data add value to BioGaps

The BioGaps project not only has teams of experts going out into the field in the Karoo to collect new data. It also has a team working hard on mobilizing historical data in herbaria, museums and other research institutions.

There are many specimens of plants and invertebrates, relevant to BioGaps, which are not yet databased and thus not usable. In order to be able to use these data for BioGaps, four digitisers started on the project around September last year to either capture label information onto computer, or else take images of labels for transcribing later on.

Three digitisers have been focusing on herbarium specimens only. They are Someleze Mgcuwa stationed at Selmar Shonland Herbarium at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, Sifiso Mnxati stationed at Bews Herbarium at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Pietermartizburg, and Mpumelele Gumede stationed at Compton Herbarium at SANBI Kirstenbosch in Cape Town. The Cape Town digitiser will also be working on specimens at the Bolus Herbarium at the University of Cape Town.


They recently attended a training course at SANBI Kirstenbosch to be shown how to use the new imaging equipment that has arrived. This equipment will speed up the pace for photographing plant specimen labels.

Plant digitisers being trained on how to use the imaging equipment

The fourth digitizer is Tebogo Ledwaba who is stationed at the Ditsong Natural History Museum in Pretoria, and she is focusing purely on bee and grasshopper specimens from the museum and from the Agricultural Research Institute. She has completed imaging all the relevant specimen labels and will now image representative specimens per species. She is also lucky enough to jet off to New York in a few months time where she will image scorpion specimens at the American Natural History Museum.


All images of specimen labels will be made available via SANBI’s new online transcribing platform called Transcribe. Transcribe will allow citizen scientists to assist with capturing label information into useable digital fields.

Once specimen labels are digitized they are ready to have latitude and longitude coordinates assigned to them. For this, BioGaps has employed two geo-referencers, Nkhume Ramavhunga and Given Leballo who are both based at SANBI in Pretoria, and SANBI intern Portia Mailula has also been assisting.


Given hard at work


They have been working tirelessly since last year July in adding coordinates to each data record. They started with datasets that were already digitized and soon will move over to the specimen data made available via Transcribe.

The geo-referencing lab

MSc student Precious Tshililo, from the Univeristy of Stellenbosch, has also help geo-reference grasshopper specimens for her research.


Recently volunteer Jill Earle also joined the team, as well as Lesiba Papo, and with their help we’ll get closer to our data targets for BioGaps.

Overall, there are about 100 000 plants specimens that require imaging of their labels and then geo-referncing, and a further 100 000 already-digitised plants that require geo-referencing. And for the invertebrates there are about 20 000 which require imaging of labels and a further 40 000 that requiregeo-referencing.

The task is large, but with our great team of digitisers and geo-referencers we are sure to make good progress.

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