Dr. Susan Mazer and Dr. Katja Seltmann at UCSB have received NSF funding to digitize UCSB’s preserved plant collection, providing detailed images of flowering plants and the timing of their flowering – all to be publicly available for climate change research. This resource is part of a California-wide collaboration to provide on-line images and ecological data representing >900,000 wild plants collected since the 19th century, enabling unprecedented research to detect the effects of climate change on flowering time in the wild. The National Science Foundation has awarded $1.8 million for this project, called Capturing California’s Flowers, in which 22 California herbaria are participating.
The project will produce nearly 1 million digital images of the plant specimens preserved in herbaria, which are carefully curated collections of irreplaceable plant specimens housed at universities and public museums. Each image is associated with a record of when and where the plant specimen was collected, all of which enable researchers to detect not only how current climatic conditions influence the seasonal timing of flowering, but also how flowering time has changed over the past two centuries. One of the project’s most important goals is to facilitate novel research to forecast plant responses to upcoming climate change. In addition, project collaborators are designing new software that will facilitate research with these specimens by investigators anywhere in the world, and are educating and guiding undergraduates and on-line volunteers to participate in their own research projects.
The Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology, along with the UC Santa Barbara Herbarium at the Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration will receive $225,844 from the NSF to image and database 34,000 plant specimen records. Along with >200,000 other plant specimens preserved at the Cheadle Center, these specimens are currently used for teaching and research, and provide a long-term reference of the plants of Santa Barbara County and beyond. The funds will be also used to improve herbarium infrastructure and to support students who will participate in this effort. Dr. Greg Wahlert, the Shirley Tucker Curator of Biodiversity Collections and Botanical Research, will be managing the digitization for the UCSB Herbarium, and we will provide several undergraduate internships through this project.
Dr. Mazer will lead the effort to record the phenology, or flowering time, of all of the specimens digitized as part of this project. Our targeted plant groups will establish a phenological baseline (pre-1930) while also providing a chronological history of each plant species.
We have also partnered with the California Botanical Society (Dr. Mazer is the current President), which has developed a Botany Ambassador Program that matches graduate students to local schools and botanical gardens where they will offer lessons designed to reduce “plant blindness” and to generate enthusiasm for botanical research, diversity, and knowledge. Lesson plans on flowering phenology will be developed in collaboration with the award-winning Kids in Nature (KIN) program at the Cheadle Center. KIN has been working with K-12 teachers and students for over 16 years to develop environmental science lesson plans that follow the Next Generation Science Standards.