Saturday, August 05, 2017

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

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

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.

Smithsonian botany colleagues at the Congress included Jun Wen (one of the Congress organizers), John Kress (who gave a keynote address, see below), Larry Dorr, Conrad Labandeira, Vicki Funk, and maybe more that I didn't run into.

Sandra Knapp
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."

IBC logos on Shenzhen skyline
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 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."

Another public lecture of note was by Sandra Knapp (Natural History Museum, London). Knapp's talk, "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."
W. John Kress
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."

Peter Wyse Jackson
"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 and which will be previewed at the Congress is a first target of the GSPC.

Keping Ma
"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.

Jun Wen
"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."

Kevin Thiele
"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?"

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 how 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
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 global partners of the Biodiversity Heritage Library. Presenters at the symposium were:

From left: Ulate, Carag, Xu, Karim, Sheffield

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) & 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 delegate. 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, is a world-class printer of art books 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. From there. down to the Fairy Lake and the palm area. We had the opportunity to visit the National Cycad Conservation Center. 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. Huge amounts of petrified wood that have been "planted" to look like a forest. Quite spectacular. Also, something that won't be seen again since export of petrified wood is now controlled. Also stopped in at the Shenzhen Paleontological Museum (some dinosaurs and nice trilobites, my favorite extinct invertebrate!).

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.

With Sandra Knapp and Peter Raven

The XIX International Botanical Congress was a unique opportunity for Smithsonian Libraries and 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

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

2017 American Libraries Association Annual Conference in Chicago, IL

I attended the 2017 American Libraries Association Annual Conference in Chicago, IL during the week of 22-26 June 2017.

BHL activities at the 2017 American Libraries Association Annual Conference
I met with staff at the Field Museum Library, Christine Giannoni and Diana Duncan. We had a chance to catch up on the latest activities of the Field on behalf of the Biodiversity Heritage Library (of which the Field is a founding member).  I also had a chance to catch up with Rusty Russell, ‎Director, Gantz Family Collections Center. Rusty, previously Head of Collections, U.S. National Herbarium (Smithsonian Institution), has been a long-time supporter of the BHL and one of the main drivers behind the Smithsonian's Field Book Project. Rusty also gave a personal tour of the Field's spectacular new exhibition, "Specimens: Unlocking the Secrets of Life" which provides wonderful context to the importance of natural history collections.

Russel (left) & Kalfatovic (right)

Esquivel (left) & Rehbein (right)
A highlight of the Conference was visiting the ALA Poster Sessions and talking with the BHL National Digital Stewardship Residents who presented a poster, "Improving Access to the Biodiversity Heritage Library: Halfway Remarks by National Digital Stewardship Residents" on 25 June. Ariadne Rehbein (based at the Missouri Botanical Garden) and Alicia Esquivel (Chicago Botanic Garden) presented the poster on behalf of their fellow NDSR residents (Marissa Kings, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County; Pamela McClanahan, Smithsonian Libraries; and Katie Mika, Ernst Mayr Library at Harvard University’s Museum of Comparative Zoology). NDSR mentor, Leora Siegel, Senior Director, Lenhardt Library at the Chicago Botanic Garden also dropped by the poster session. Read more about the Residents in Chicago at BHL NDSR at ALA.

OCLC 50th Anniversary Celebration
Attending the OCLC 50th Anniversary Celebration in the spectacular setting of the Adler Planetarium provided an excellent opportunity to speak with colleagues from around the country as well as senior OCLC staff.

Internet Archive at ALA
I also attended a session organized by the Internet Archive to hear the team discuss OpenLibraries -- a project that will enable every US library to become a more digital library. The goal is to work with library partners and organizations to bring 4 million books online, through purchase or digitization, starting with the century of books missing from our digital shelves. The plan includes at-scale circulation of these e-books, enabling libraries owning the physical works to lend digital copies to their patrons. This will enable thousands of libraries to unlock their analog collections for a new generation of learners, enabling free, long-term, public access to knowledge. I also had a chance after the session to catch up with long-time BHL supporter Brewster Kahle and Wendy Hanamura (Director of Partnerships at the Internet Archive and lead for the Internet Archives' partnership as a BHL Affiliate).

Hanamura (left) & Kahle (right)

LITA Imagineering: Generation Gap: Science Fiction and Fantasy Authors Look at Youth and Technology
The LITA Imagineering Interest Group and Tor Books brought together a great panel of  Science Fiction and Fantasy authors to discuss how their work can help explain and bridge the interests of generational gaps. Participating in the panel were Cory Doctorow, Annalee Newitz, V.E. Schwab, and Susan Dennard.

OCLC Research Partners Update
This session, led by Rachel L. Frick (Executive Director, OCLC Research Partners), provided an overall update of partnership and some forthcoming activities.

The Update also focused on the following two projects:

"Public Libraries & Wikipedia" was delivered by Monika Sengul-Jones OCLC Wikipedian-in-Residence and Sharon Streams, OCLC Research/WebJunction (see more information at: "Wikipedia for Libraries: Preview the Possibilities, Discover the Opportunities")

Of particular interest was the presentation by Kenning Arlitsch (Montana State University) and Jeff Mixter (OCLC Research) on the Repository Analytics and Metrics Portal (RAMP) project. The RAMP web service represents a dramatic improvement in web analytics. The researchers have demonstrated that page-tagging analytics methods, such as Google Analytics, typically undercount item downloads from IR because they are not designed to measure non-HTML file downloads, while log file analytics typically over-count due to enormous robot traffic. (See related article, "RAMP – the Repository Analytics and Metrics Portal: A prototype web service that accurately counts item downloads from institutional repositories".

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Report from the Digital Data in Biodiversity Research Conference, University of Michigan

University of Michigan
The Digital Data in Biodiversity Research Conference was sponsored by iDigBio, the University of Michigan Herbarium, the University of Michigan Museum of Paleontology, and the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology. The conference was attended by about 185 people from a variety of institutions. I attended to participate in the GBIF North American Nodes Workshop and was joined by Alicia Esquivel (BHL NDSR Resident based at the Chicago Botanic Garden).

After a welcome from Dean Andrew D. Martin of the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, the opening series of plenary talks began with Stephen Smith (University of Michigan) speaking on "The Utility of Large-scale Phylogenetic Analyses for Understanding the Evolution of Biodiversity." The detailed talk covered the promise of a comprehensive view of the tree of life, whether for a particular clade or the entire tree of life which has been a major motivation of the systematics community for decades. Smith described new efforts and new ways for combining the resources from the Open Tree of Life with other phylogenetic analyses to construct a dated and comprehensive tree and discussed construction of a comprehensive tree for seed plants containing 80,037 taxa from GenBank and 356,807 total taxa.

Maureen Kearney
Maureen Kearney, Associate Director for Science, National Museum of Natural History (Smithsonian Institution) spoke next. Kearney's talk, "Expanding the Power of Natural History Knowledge: Frontiers in Research and Collections at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History," was an inspiring overview of the role of natural history museums in this era of rapid global change to mobilize collections data and natural history knowledge for science and society.

Kearney spoke of how Natural history scientists help us comprehend the fundamental nature of the planet, of organisms (including humans), and of evolutionary and ecological interactions throughout the history of life on Earth. The enormous potential exists for natural history museums in the 21st century if they highlight their unique niche as irreplaceable research and data centers for the study of global change. Kearney also noted that this can only be realized, though, if museums build large-scale pipelines and open-source, dynamic platforms to digitize, structure, link, and share our natural history data and knowledge. She spoke of key partners inside the National Museum of Natural History (such as the Global Genomics Initiative and the Encyclopedia of Life) and other partners at the Smithsonian, including the Biodiversity Heritage Library and the Smithsonian's Digitization Program Office and its 3D imaging team.

Donald Hobern
Donald Hobern, GBIF Executive Secretary, spoke on "Preserving Evidence of Biodiversity Patterns: GBIF and Persistent Biodiversity Data Management." Hobern gave an overview of GBIF as well as the goals of the GBIF implementation plan include simplifying and supporting data publishing and assisting with delivery of the most detailed version possible for each data source.

Other plenary talks included:
  • Linking Heterogeneous Data in Biodiversity Research by Pam Soltis, Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida
  • Using “Digital Specimens” to explore the behavioral phenotype by Mike Webster, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology
Dan Fisher
Full abstracts and details at of the Concurrent Sessions is online here. Sessions attended were:
  • 3D Surface Models in Paleontology and Archaeology by Dan Fisher, University of Michigan Museum of Paleontology. Used the Buesching mastodon (now at University of Michigan) as a case study for the talk. Walked through the excavation and the 3D imaging process. Digital data on the external form of specimens are central to many paleontological and archaeological analyses. Digital models minimize handling of fragile and/or heavy specimens, facilitate access and collaboration, allow complex measurements, enhance visualization of surface topography, and simplify inspection of multi-object assemblies. 
  • Paleobiology Database: A Community Based Data Service for Research, Education, and Museums by Mark Uhen, George Mason University
  • MorphoSource: A Virtual Museum and Digital Repository for 3D Specimen Data by Doug Boyer, Duke University
  • ePANDDA: enhancing Paleontological and Neontological Data Discovery API by Susan Butts, Yale University; Seth Kaufman, Whirligig Inc.
  • The Importance and Challenges of Database Integration: MorphoBank, MorphoSource, and the Paleobiology Database by Julie Winchester, Duke University

Macklin, Hanner, Bruneau
In the afternoon, the meeting offered focused workshops. The Biodiversity Heritage Library was invited to participate in the Digital Data and the North American Nodes of the Global Biodiversity Information Facility session led by Bob Hanner, Stinger Guala, and James Macklin. A goal of the workshop was to discuss the current status of the GBIF North American Nodes, current activities and collaborations.

Attended by about 50 participants, the presentations at the workshop included:
  • National and Regional Coordination Roles within GBIF (Donald Hobern)
  • Biodiversity Information Serving Our Nation (BISON): Connections and Cooperation (Stinger Guala)
  • The Canadian Biodiversity Information Facility (CBIF) (James Macklin)
  • Canadensys: revealing the biodiversity of Canada (Anne Bruneau)
  • Overview of the Biodiversity Heritage Library Recent Activities (Martin Kalfatovic)
  • The Catalogue of Life: Infrastructure for Science (Tom Orrell)
  • Global Genome Biodiversity Network – Infrastructure for Genomic Research (Jon Coddington)
  • iDigBio, National Coordinating Center for NSF's ADBC Program (Larry Page)
The BHL talk, "Overview of the Biodiversity Heritage Library: Recent Activities" covered:
As the world’s largest open access digital library for biodiversity literature, the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) is an unparalleled resource that has forever changed the way researchers around the globe understand, describe, and conserve life on Earth. BHL has become not only a model for digital libraries but also a fundamental resource for taxonomic literature aggregation, discovery, and presentation by engaging the taxonomic community and responding to user needs. To achieve this, BHL relies on many standards and tools, such as Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs), Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), and Global Names Architecture (GNA). These standards and tools help ensure that data in and about the literature matches the needs and expectations of the scientific community and is readily available for widespread reuse. To meet the evolving needs and expectations of researchers, we must continually innovate and adapt to the changing technological landscape.  BHL is in the process of organizing widespread user needs analysis and an environmental scan of information resources to define requirements for a next generation digital library. 
The presentations were followed by a panel discussion and a conversation with the audience.

After the day's meetings, attendees were bused to the Research Museums Center, located about 7.5 kilometers from the center of the University of Michigan campus. Participants were given the opportunity of guided tours of the University of Michigan Herbarium, collections areas of the Museum of Paleontology, and the wet and dry collections of the Museum of Zoology.





Adam Summers
The second day again opened with plenary talks which included:
  • Big Data, Museum Specimens, Access and Archiving - Lessons from #scanAllFish by Adam Summers, University of Washington. Amazing high energy talk about Summers' project #scanAllFish, over 1,991 species, 3,094 specimens from 109 collections. Expects to store over half a petabyte of data for 30,000 vertebrates. Storing and backing these data up is an issue. It is also interesting to consider what collections plan to do when these data are returned to them with the specimens. 
  • Video Data and Motion Analysis in Comparative Biomechanics Research by Beth Brainerd, Brown University. "Film or video recordings have long been important primary data for research in comparative biomechanics. Innovations have included the use of two or more cameras to capture 3D motion, and the use of two X-ray video cameras (fluoroscopes) to capture 3D motion of bones in vivo. Over the past decade we have developed X-ray Reconstruction of Moving Morphology (XROMM), which combines  dual-fluoroscopy with bone models from CT scans to produce accurate animations of 3D bones moving in 3D space."
  • The PREDICTS Project: Projecting Responses of Ecological Diversity In Changing Terrestrial Systems by Adriana De Palma, Natural History Museum, London. "PREDICTS is a collaborative project that aims to produce global models of how local biodiversity responds to land use and related human impacts, in order to make projections under possible future scenarios."
  • Field Collections to Digital Data: A Workflow for Fossils and the Use of Digital Data for Reconstructing Ancient Forests by Dori Contreras, University of California Museum of Paleontology. "The integration of curation and digitization with project-focused data collection is a key component to performing time-efficient studies from new fossil collections. Standard workflows for processing fossil specimens starting from initial field collection and continuing through digital analysis/measurement are not widely established. Here I present my workflow for reconstruction of a diverse Late Cretaceous flora from plant macrofossils preserved in an extensive recrystallized volcanic ashfall deposit."
  • Natural History Data Pipelines: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly by Andy Bentley, University of Kansas Biodiversity Institute. "Collections, aggregators, data re-packagers, publishers, researchers, and external user groups form a complex web of data connections and pipelines that form the natural history knowledge base essential for collections use by an ever increasing and diverse external user community.  We have made great strides in developing the individual parts of this knowledge base and we are now well poised to integrate these capabilities to address big picture questions.  Although we need to continue work on the individual pieces, the focus now needs to be on integration of these disparate sources of data that create the pipeline."
Sessions attended included:
  • Using Statistical Analysis to Calculate the Size of Biodiversity Literature by Alicia Esquivel, Chicago Botanic Garden
  • Illustrating Value Added in Databasing Historical Collections: Entered, Proofed, and Done (or Not!) by Tony Reznicek, University of Michigan Herbarium
  • The Encyclopedia of Life v3: constructing a linked data model by Jennifer Hammock, National Museum of Natural History, Encyclopedia of Life, Smithsonian Institution
  • Encyclopedia of Life Version 3: New Tools for the Exploration of Biodiversity Knowledge by Katja Schulz, National Museum of Natural History, Encyclopedia of Life, Smithsonian Institution
  • How do People see Biodiversity? Using a Digital Identification Key in a Citizen Science Program by Mathilde Delaunay, Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle, Paris, France
  • Taxonomic Data Quality in GBIF: A Case Study of Aquatic Macroinvertebrate Groups by Joan Damerow, Field Museum of Natural History
  • Hole-y Plant Databases! Understanding and Preventing Biases in Botanical Big Data by Katelin D. Pearson, Florida State University
Alicia Esquivel's talk was an excellent overview of the BHL NDSR Resident program and the important work being done by the group as BHL looks forward to BHL Version 2. Esquivel's work focuses on looking for gaps in the BHL collections and other collections analysis. In addition to her talk, she also presented a poster (co-authored by Constance Rinaldo, BHL Chair / Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University).

  • Prospects for the Use of Digitized Specimens in Studies of Plant Diversity and Evolution by Michael Donoghue, Yale University
  • A Vision for a National Cyberinfrastructure for Biodiversity Research and what NSF can do Enable it by Peter McCartney, National Science Foundation
Research Museums Center, University of Michigan

Friday, June 09, 2017

BHL Presentation and demo at the Library of Congress

Kalfatovic, Steen, Sheffield
On 1 June 2017, Martin R. Kalfatovic and Carolyn A. Sheffield visited the Library of Congress at the invitation of Tomoko Steen (Senior Research Specialist at Science and Technology Division) to give an overview and demonstration of the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) portal. Dr. Steen is also the Member representative for the Library of Congress.

The two hour long program included a presentation that gave an organizational overview of the BHL and recent activities. Sheffield's demonstration showed different methods of accessing, using, and downloading BHL content.

Many in the audience, approximately fifteen were reference librarians and familiar with the BHL but happy to learn new tips and tricks on using the website. There were additional staff from the science policy unit of the Congressional Research Service.

My presentation is online here.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Promoting Scholarly Communications and the BHL at the Mpala Research Centre

Under the auspices of Scott Miller, Deputy Under Secretary for Collections and Interdisciplinary Support (DUSCIS) and Vice-Chair of the Mpala Research Centre, I spent three days at the Mpala Research Centre in Laikipia County, Kenya with Carolyn A. Sheffield (BHL Program Manager) to learn more about the activities and research at Mpala and to explore partnerships around the Biodiversity Heritage Library and scholarly communications.

Library this way!
Dr. Dino Martins, Executive Director of the Mpala Research Centre, met Kalfatovic and Sheffield outside of Nanyuki just north of the equator and in the shadow of Mt. Kenya, about 240 kilometers north of Nairobi. We made a short stop at the equator marker before picking up a few supplies for the trip back to Mpala. On the ninety minute drive from Nanyuki to Mpala, Dr. Martins gave a fascinating and useful overview of the history of Mpala, the complex interactions of wildlife and human agricultural activities around livestock and farming. Increasing pressure on the environment from the subdivision of land for residential development and challenges presented by climate change on the area are a daily concern for Martins as he manages the important living laboratory that is the Mpala Research Centre.

Mt Kenya
As noted on the Mpala website:
Mpala stretches over 48,000 acres of semi-arid savanna, acacia bushland, wooded grassland, rocky escarpments and riverine habitats along the Ewaso Nyiro and Ewaso Narok rivers. The Mpala Research Centre (MRC) receives hundreds of students, educators, and scientists from around the globe each year, conducting research on everything from parasites to elephants. The unique set up of Mpala allows for researchers to use the land as a ‘living laboratory’ in which to conduct experiments and answer pressing questions on conservation and wildlife.
With Dr. Martins
In touring the grounds of the Centre, Dr. Martins also spoke of the opportunities presented by the ongoing collaborative work done by the Conservancies, such as Mpala, Kenyan local and national governmental agencies, and private landowners to balance wildlife and nature conservation, sustainable economic development, and farming/ranching activities.

"Most research organizations in Kenya (including Mpala), as well as agencies who regulate research, are struggling with the challenges of tracking and making available the results of research. The tools that Smithsonian Research Online have used could be readily adapted for use by some of these organizations" said the Smithsonian's Scott Miller.

At the equator with Dr. Martins
To help better understand the work done at Mpala and the research needs, Dr. Martins personally took us on two evening game drives throughout the Mpala grounds. The visits were nothing short of spectacular. Sightings of various wildlife were numerous (see fuller list below), including many listed as vulnerable or endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. It was wonderful to see large groups of the endangered Grévy's zebra (Equus grevyi) with young foals. Three species of vulnerable animals, Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius), Reticulated giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis reticulata), and Elephant (Loxodonta africana) were present in large numbers. Among the other Artiodactyla sighted, the groups of Greater Kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros) were spectacular. Mpala also maintains herds of domestic cattle. At the end of the game drive, we stopped by one of the cattle enclosures as Dr. Martins consulted with the Mpala herdsmen on the status of the cattle.

Greater Kudu  (Tragelaphus strepsiceros)

Elephant (Loxodonta africana)

Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius)

Grévy's zebra (Equus grevyi)
The next morning, during a visit to the research facilities, we spent time in the N.S.F. and McCormack Research Labs at Mpala, where we were shown the ongoing work of visiting and longer term researchers, including experiments being down with caterpillars. On our first full morning at the Centre, we were taken on a bird watching walk of the grounds with ornithologist Sylvester Karimi.

Research labs
On the final day of the visit, presentations on scholarly communications management and the Biodiversity Heritage Library were given to an audience of about twenty people. Included in the audience were representatives from ten institutions, in addition to Mpala Research Centre staff. Institutions represented included were: Space for Giants,  Laikipia Wildlife ForumKenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI), Olpejeta ConservancyLewa ConservancyUniversity of Bayreuth, Daraja Academy,  Lekiji Primary School, Oljogi Primary School, and the Mpala Academy.

I spoke on "Managing Scholarly Research Output: The Smithsonian Institution Experience: An Introduction to Smithsonian Research Online" and BHL Program Manager Carolyn A. Sheffield presented on "Inspiring Discovery Through Free Access to Biodiversity Knowledge: The Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL)."

Mpala library volunteer Naomi Wanjiru Chege
At the conclusion of the presentations, we met with Mpala library volunteer Naomi Wanjiru Chege and Anchal Padukone (Princeton in Africa Fellow) to discuss the library facility at Mpala and possible areas of collaboration between the Centre and Smithsonian Libraries as well as the Biodiversity Heritage Library. We also had an opportunity to visit the studio facilities of Mpala Live!:
Mpala Live! gives you a round-the-clock look at the lives of elephants, lions, zebras, giraffes, hippos, birds, and other animals in a fascinating swath of African landscape. Our webcams let you visually enter this realm. The Hippo Pool cameras, for instance, take you to a watering hole that attracts hippos, monkeys, zebras, giraffe, scores of bird species, and the occasional crocodile. 
Mpala Live!, with viewership in the millions, provides both educational and research activities with its active citizen science engagement.

With Naomi Wanjiru Chege
Our work at the Centre ended, we shared yet another wonderful meal with the guests, researchers, and Mpala staff. The lunch provided additional opportunities to learn about the work done in the Kenyan wildlife conservancies and at Mpala. The luncheon concluded, we met our transportation for the five hour ride back to Nairobi and our departing flight at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.

On this visit to Kenya, we were treated to some wonderful sightings of the local flora and fauna. In Mpala and the nearby areas, the following were some of the highlights of the local fauna. For lists of the flora and fauna of Mpala, please see the following Mpala website page.

  • Vervet Monkey (Cercopithecus aethiops)
  • Black-and-white colobus monkey (Colobus) [sighted outside the Mpala Research Centre]
  • Olive Baboon (Papio anubis) [sighted outside the Mpala Research Centre]
  • Bat-eared Fox (Otocyon megalotis)
  • Slender Mongoose (Galerella sanguinea)
Reticulated giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis reticulata)
  • Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius)
  • Common Warthog (Phacochoerus africanus)
  • Reticulated giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis reticulata)
  • Impala (Aepyeros melampus)
  • Guenther's Dikdik (Madoqua guentheri)
  • Steenbok (Raphicerus campestris)
  • Greater Kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros)
  • Bushbuck (Tragelaphus scriptus)
  • Elephant (Loxodonta africana)
Spider plant (Cleome gynandra)
  • Grévy's zebra (Equus grevyi)
  • Scrub hare (Lepus saxatilis)
  • Bush Hyrax (Heterohyrax brucei)
Cow (Bos taurus/indicus)
  • Cow (Bos taurus/indicus)
  • Sheep (Ovis aries) [sighted outside the Mpala Research Centre]
  • Goat (Capra hircus) [sighted outside the Mpala Research Centre]
  • Donkey (Equus africanus) [sighted outside the Mpala Research Centre]
  • Camel (Camelus dromedaryus)
  • Domestic Dog (Canis familiaris)
  • Domestic Cat (Felis sylvestris)
AVES (Selected)
  • Vulturine Guineafowl (Acryllium vulturinum)
  • Egyptian Goose (Alopochen aegyptiacus)
  • Gabar Goshawk (Micronisus gabar)
  • Martial Eagle (Polemaetus bellicosus)
  • Red-chested Cuckoo (Cuculus solitarius)
  • Red-billed Hornbill (Tockus erythrorhynchus)
  • Rock Martin (Hirundo fuligula)
  • Common Bulbul (Pycnonotus barbatus)
  • Superb Starling (Lamprotornis superbus)
A lone Grévy's zebra (Equus grevyi)