Museum Collections and Research

Community Science and Biodiversity

Science isn't just for PhDs! Every day, people just like you contribute to important science projects by becoming community scientists!

With over a million specimens in the Field Museum's botany collections, Field Museum scientists often turn to community scientists for help with identifying and sorting the plant specimens. Take for example one community science project, called "Site for Sori" available the popular community science platform "Zooniverse".

This community science project asks for volunteers to help identify the morphology of fern specimens. Remember, we talked about morphology in a previous module; It's the structure and shape of an organism. First, volunteers complete a quick tutorial introducing them to some key terminology used to describe fern anatomy. Then volunteers proceed to document the species name, and to provide classifications of the fern specimen's morphology as well as using a measurement tool to measure the longest frond on the specimen sheet. All this data is then stored and made available for the project's owner, a Field Museum scientist, who can use it to help with the enormous task of gathering insights from millions of herbarium sheets!

Navigate to Site for Sori and, after reading through the tutorial, try your hand at completing one fern classification. Congratulations! You are now officially a community scientist!

Another amazing application of community science comes from scientists in the Keller Science Action center in partnership with researchers at Yale, who have worked together to map expected and observed species diversity in an interactive app called "Map of Life". This app brings together data from the Field Museum's rapid inventories, during which biology, conservation and social science professionals collect, image, and gather information on critical social and biological regions around the world. The most recent Rapid Inventory took place in the Putumayo, a region of the Amazon River basin in which Ecuador, Colombia and Peru meet. Scientists collect and photograph these findings, then take them to the museum where they are sorted, catalogued and digitized. In order for all these digitized records to help conservation professionals on the ground back in the Putumayo region, this data along with content from Wikipedia, as well as high-quality entries in the Community Science application iNaturalist have been pulled together in a user-friendly interface allowing users to see which species are expected or have been observed in a given area.

This incredible effort would not have been possible without contributions from Biologists, data and computer science experts, and community scientists with a passion for documenting the biodiversity in their surroundings. You, too can use iNaturalist to photograph and learn about the plants and animals around you! Maybe one day, if your entries are quality, your work will be included in a tool like Map of Life, too! Give it a try!