University of Michigan Museum of Zoology

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NSF Grant: Georeferencing U.S. Fish Collections


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In this project, we propose to use GEOLocate’s Community Georeferencing system to collaboratively georeference the estimated 0.8 million currently ungeoreferenced fish collection locality records in U.S. fish collections. We also propose to add several new data providers to the Fishnet2 network.  The added data providers will increase the number of localities in need of georeferencing to 2 million records. Polygons will be used to describe georeferencing uncertainty, and will be compared to the more traditional approach of point-radii.  Results from this analysis will be used to guide future georeferencing projects.  The collaboration involves 15 institutions.  Data from the new Fishnet2 data providers will first be added to the network and cleaned to make data in the various geographic fields consistent. To accomplish the georeferencing task, we will divide the world into 15 regions each with roughly equal numbers of collection localities.  Georeferencing technicians at each of the collaborating institutions will then receive training on use of the community georeferencing software.   Collaborative georeferencing will commence in the third quarter of Year 1 on the project and will continue for 18 months.   In the final year of the project, georeferenced data will be repatriated to data providers for incorporation in their databases.


Georeferencing natural history collection data is a critical step in a process of mobilizing biodiversity data that starts with digitizing collection records, continues through databasing and networking, and ultimately gives researchers remote access to the vast specimen and data resources of natural history museums. Having access to georeferenced specimen occurrence data allows researchers to address important scientific and societal questions in areas such as endangered species conservation, environmental restoration, and preparing for global climate change. The resource of georeferenced locality records provided by this project will serve several purposes, beyond its usefulness to the fish collection community. It can be used for georeferencing data for other groups of organisms, especially aquatic organisms, which were likely sampled at many of the same access points (e.g., in rivers near bridge crossings) or at the same time as many of the fish specimens. This project will reult in a compiled gazetteer of all georeferenced localities that is available to other collection digitization projects, including projects in the Advancing Digitization of Biological Collections (ADBC) program. The resource of georeferenced collection localities created through this project will also serve the fish collection and broader natural history collection community as a resource for cleaning taxonomic data, thanks to the map visualization of data it supports. Mapping specimen occurrences makes it easier for taxonomic experts to detect errors in specimen identity and distribution, resulting in more accurate taxonomic and geographic data. The education and outreach activities of this project will specifically target underrepresented minorities from New Orleans area schools in an effort to increase minority participation in natural history collection based research.