University of Michigan Museum of Zoology

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UMMZ is a direct content provider to Encyclopedia of Life

7/18/2012

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The University of Michigan Museum of Zoology’s bee mite website became a direct content provider for the Encyclopedia of Life (EOL) in May 2012, joining the Animal Diversity Web, one of EOL’s oldest and largest content providers. The U-M Herbarium is soon-to-be on board with EOL as well.

“Pollination services of bees are recognized as a crucial factor enabling normal functioning of virtually every terrestrial ecosystem and human agriculture,” said Pavel Klimov, an assistant research scientist in the lab of Professor Barry OConnor, curator of insects. “Following the decline of honeybee populations throughout the world, bee-associated mites received considerable interest as one of the major causes.”

Since the last census in 1994, there was a 214 percent increase in the number of bee mite species, suggesting that another devastating attack on honeybees or any other important bee pollinator is possible, according to Klimov. “Our mission is to document all species of mites associated with native and introduced bees on a global scale. There are hundreds of species still unknown to science, and as beekeepers start to use other bee species for pollination, we want to be ready with information about the mites associated with those bees. There may be other parasites out there, but some bee mites are beneficial to the bees as well, and we will be developing identification tools to sort them out.”

Chaetodactylus krombeini, the most important mite species attacking wild and managed bee populations. Credit: Pavel Klimov. Currently, the UMMZ bee mite website lists 720 mite species recorded in associations with bees. For some of them, detailed information, such as geographic distribution, electronic interactive maps, location on the host body, host associations, images, and morphology-based identification keys, is provided. The data were collected by OConnor and Klimov from 18 museums in the United States and abroad and from extensive fieldwork. They are preparing to upload and annotate over 350 high-quality microscopic photos of bee mites – made over the course of one year by Maria Wooten, an undergraduate student at U-M. Klimov and Wooten have been the primary photographers of specimen images.

The partnership with EOL allows for more efficient, semantic-based information retrieval using XML – an Internet markup language used to describe data structure in machine readable form. Because the bee mite website was created in pre-XML era, a great deal of effort was put into automatically parsing our html pages to XML, so it can be understood by the EOL ‘harvesting’ robot. “As a result our sites can exchange information almost in real time,” Klimov said. “Our online cooperation will benefit many people, including biosecurity agency specialists, beekeepers, and conservational biologists, by making them aware of potential threats of bee associated mites and providing relevant information in a highly structured and yet human readable form for information retrieval and dissemination.”

Animal Diversity Web logoThe Animal Diversity Web is an online database of animal natural history, distribution, classification, and conservation biology at the University of Michigan. Thousands of species accounts about individual animal species may include text, pictures of living animals, photographs and movies of specimens, and/or recordings of sounds.The ADW is an online encyclopedia, a science learning tool and a virtual museum.

“All of our species accounts and many of our images are ported automatically to EOL, where they appear with text that identifies ADW as the source,” said Professor Phil Myers, curator of mammals. The ADW provides many of the EOL’s most widely used content, over 12 percent of all site visits to EOL are to view ADW content, comprising over 5,300 detailed taxon pages.

Professor Paul Berry, director and curator of the U-M Herbarium will soon be providing content to the EOL about the genus Euphorbia. Berry is the principal investigator of the Euphorbia Planetary Biodiversity Inventory project. Euphorbia, a genus of plants in the Euphorbiaceae family, contains at least 2,100 species and is one of the most diverse groups of flowering plants on earth.

The EOL website states: Our knowledge of the many life-forms on Earth – of animals, plants, fungi, protists and bacteria – is scattered around the world in books, journals, databases, websites, specimen collections, and in the minds of people everywhere. Imagine what it would mean if this information could be gathered together and made available to everyone – anywhere – at a moment’s notice. This dream is becoming a reality through the Encyclopedia of Life.

Captions: from top: 1. The bee Lithurgus echinocacti with mites Chaetodactylus abditus on a barrel cactus flower in Arizona. Credit: Pavel Klimov. 2. Chaetodactylus krombeini, one of the most important mite species attacking wild and managed bee pollinators (mason bees of the genus Osmia) in North America. Credit: Pavel Klimov. 3. Animal Diversity Web logo. 4. Euphorbia Planetary Biodiversity Inventory logo.