An award has been made to the New York Botanical Garden under the direction of Dr. Barbara M. Thiers for the enhancement of an online, virtual herbarium of plant specimens from Amazonian Brazil. The Garden holds over one-half million specimens from this biologically diverse and important country, and the grant will allow them to capture images and data from the specimens that can be accessed by researchers worldwide in studies of this flora. The Garden will work closely with Brazilian colleagues to ensure accuracy of the data for the specimens, and the electronic data will be made available to the Brazilian National Institute for Amazonian Research, which will support complementary efforts in that country. The data and information will be used by conservation biologists and botanists to document species distributions and inform decision makers dealing with this region, which contains many threatened species. Students in the US and Brazil will be involved in the project and will be trained in herbarium curation, database construction and management, and botanical research.

Project Report

The goals of this project were: digitize specimens held in The New York Botanical Garden Herbarium from Amazonian Brazil. Amazonian Brazil includes the states of Acre, Amapá, Amazonas, Maranhão, Mato Grosso, Para, Rondônia, Roraima and Tocantins (although some parts of some of these states, especially Mato Grosso and Tocantins are transitional to other ecoregions); share data digitized from NYBG herbarium with herbaria in Brazil and generally through the Garden’s Virtual Herbarium, through the GBIF data portal and through SpeciesLink, a Brazil-specific specimen data repository; collaborate with INPA (National Institute for Research in the Amazon Region) in Manaus; and train students from Brazil and the U.S. in specimen digitization techniques; provide Brazilian graduate students the opportunity to enhance their dissertation research while working on the project. During the project, we have imaged 164,000 specimens from the Brazilian Amazon region and have transcribed the specimen label data for these into a searchable database. This total includes specimens from all of the major angiosperm families in the region. This project was the capstone of a ten year effort by NYBG to digitize all Brazilian vascular plants. Previously, NSF supported the digitization of the vascular plants of Eastern Brazil (DBI 9987500) and Central Brazil (DBI 0543335). As a result, there are now about 320,000 digitized records of NYBG Brazilian vascular plants, 108,642 of which are accompanied by specimen images, available on line through The New York Botanical Garden’s Virtual Herbarium, through the Global Biodiversity Information Facility, and through SpeciesLink, the Brazilian biodiversity information facility. This project required the development of some novel approaches to capturing electronic data from specimens. Because the project called for imaging all specimens so that we could capture data using the images, rather than the specimens themselves, we had to develop a new type of imaging station that could easily moved from place to place within the herbarium. Because we had two versions of many of the records (partial records at NYBG, and partial records in Brazilian herbaria) we had to develop data matching techniques to create full database records from partial records held at different institutions (i.e., NYBG and various herbaria in Brazil). During the course of the project we discovered that the transcription of data from field books also provides a very efficient source of partial data for merging to create full records. During this project, seven Brazilian graduate student interns spent 3-6 months each working on the project as well as pursuing their own research projects. The project also trained three undergraduate students in museum collection management and digitization techniques. The project also provided professional development for collaborators at the National Institute for Research in the Amazon Region (INPA) in Manaus, Brazil. The data contributed by this project will be a critical resources for the compilation of the World Flora Online project ( In 2002, the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity adopted a Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GPSC). This was subsequently updated in 2013 with the aim of halting the lost of plant species worldwide by 2020. The U. N. Convention of Biological Diversity is the most widely supported international environmental agreement and involves most of the world’s governments. The updated GSPC included 16 targets to be achieved by the year 2020; Target One of the GPSC states the need for "An online flora of all known plants." The data amassed through this project will also contribute directly to an evolutionary and environmental synthesis of Amazonian biodiversity. A newly funded project will seek to answer key research questions using data from butterflies, plants, birds, primates. These questions include including where biodiversity is distributed in Amazonia and what factors control what organisms live where; whether or not species diversity is organized common distributional patterns, and what ancient and current biodiversity patterns can tell us about the causes of species diversification, and how current aquatic and terrestrial environments in the Amazon originated.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Biological Infrastructure (DBI)
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Anne Maglia
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New York Botanical Garden
United States
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