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Jen Humphrey
KU Natural History Museum
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Digitized collection data to give scientists new tools for research

Tue, 08/27/2013

LAWRENCE – From bumblebees to blister beetles, the world-class University of Kansas entomology collection numbers 5 million insects pinned in drawers, each one with a tiny printed or handwritten label.  

This week the staff and students of the Biodiversity Institute’s Entomology Division celebrated the capture of the data associated with 1 million of those insects. The information has been entered into a web-accessible and searchable database called Specify.  The data will help scientists study insect evolution and ecology, the transmission of insect-borne diseases, insects as essential plant and crop pollinators, and the impact of climate change on these essential insect functions.

“For 15 years, it’s been a priority at the Biodiversity Institute to bring this enormous volume of essential biological data on the planet’s insects into currency for science and society,” said Leonard Krishtalka, Biodiversity Institute director. “Serving this data on the web paves the way for powerful research and knowledge discovery in order to inform smart public policy.”

Since the late 1990s, a team of 50 undergraduate students and staff has been painstakingly digitizing the biological data associated with insect collections from both previous and current expeditions to the world’s forests, grasslands, deserts, rivers and lakes.  The process involves photographing the data labels, adding a bar code for each specimen and entering the information accurately into the Specify database. 

Specify was developed with research funding from the National Science Foundation, which also has funded part of the insect digitization project. Specify is also being used by 475 biodiversity collections worldwide, encompassing tens of millions of plant and animal records now available to the global research, educational and policy communities.  



As KU senior Ashlie Koehn helped prepare a meal of horse and goat — she is studying abroad in Kyrgyzstan — she got a Skype call from Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little, telling her she had been named a 2015 Truman Scholar. Koehn is majoring in environmental studies, economics, and international studies. She chose Kyrgyzstan, her third study abroad experience, to increase her cultural competency and sharpen her Russian language skills. One of Koehn’s favorite things about the country? The beautiful mountains and lakes. She plans to use the $30,000 Truman award for graduate study in the economics of climate change. While she appreciates Kyrgyzstan’s mountains, her environmental pursuits concern her own native plains. “As a fourth-generation Kansan, I am deeply concerned about how climate change will affect the lives and livelihood of Kansans.” Read more about Ashlie Koehn and her surprise Skype with the Chancellor: http://bit.ly/1awodaa University of Kansas College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Kansas Air National Guard KU Study Abroad Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation

#KUfacts : KU offers courses in 40+ languages, preparing #KUleaders to better understand other peoples & cultures. http://t.co/rWooccUvPQ


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