Virtual Herbaria Give Researchers Access to US Plant Specimens Anywhere, Anytime
June 22, 2016
Seventeen land-grant institutions and partner organizations are working together to improve digital databases of plant specimens collected across the United States. Although the U.S. has more than 625 herbaria, some records have been disjointed or were not digitized, making it difficult for researchers to access all plant specimens. Plant data facilitates accurate ecological modeling, better land management, sustainable agricultural planning and improved assessments of climate change impacts. In 2009, researchers formed Multistate Research Project WERA-1015 to improve existing herbaria and move forward with the development of a single, national U.S. Virtual Herbarium (USVH).
“Having access to virtual herbaria is essential for land management and conservation work, which is why we need to take advantage of new digital and Web-based tools,” said Mary Barkworth, WERA-1015 advisor and director of the Utah State University Intermountain Herbarium.
WERA-1015 has developed and provided new information, protocols, and tools to individual herbaria, helping them modernize and integrate their collections. When the project began, there were only three regional or national herbarium networks, but by the end of 2015, 235 were sharing records through a regional network. By providing free access to verifiable, downloadable information on plants and their distribution, these networks save researchers the time and cost of traveling to specific plant sites or specimen libraries. A survey conducted in August 2015 showed there were approximately 17 million records accessible through one of the major networks, a huge increase over the amount reported. reported in 2011. WERA-1015 has also encouraged specimen collectors to adhere to international guidelines and use new tools to record higher quality information.
WERA-1015 is supported, in part, through USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. To learn more about this project, please visit http://usvhproject.org/. For more on the multistate research program, please visit www.multistateresearchimpacts.org.
The participating land-grant universities include:
- Auburn University
- University of California, Davis
- Delaware State University
- University of Georgia
- University of Hawaii
- Iowa State University
- Kansas State University
- Louisiana State University
- Michigan State University
- Mississippi State University
- University of New Hampshire
- Oregon State University
- Rutgers State University of New Jersey
- Utah State University
- University of Vermont
- West Virginia University
- University of Wisconsin
About Agriculture Is America (AgIsAmerica)
Agriculture is America. In short, the agriculture industry – sustained in large part by the American land-grant university system through Colleges of Agriculture, Agricultural Experiment Stations, and Cooperative Extension – is integral to jobs, national security, and health. To learn more, visit http://agisamerica.org.