Data rescue intern:
The field notes of early botanists are an undervalued source of biodiversity data. They can provide us with high quality baseline data that spans back to the time before we had heaps of species observations from community science portals like iNaturalist. The main challenge is translating this data from scribbled (and sometimes waterlogged) notes on paper to useable, clean data!
Harvey Janszen (1946-2021) was a beloved amateur botanist and naturalist who extensively documented his findings around the Southern Gulf Islands and Saanich Peninsula in Southern BC as well as the San Juan Islands in Washington. His work filled 5 field journals, spanning from 1973-2017. These journals contain metadata for 2971 collected herbarium specimens, species checklists, surveys / search effort for species at risk, and thousands of observation-only species data. The notes associated with collected specimens are already available on the open-access portal GBIF (to varying degrees of accuracy) since this data is submitted by the herbaria that host his preserved specimens (Royal British Columbia Museum Herbarium (RBCM) and the UBC Herbarium). The observation-only occurrence data, however, has yet to be extracted. Digitizing these records would generate thousands of new vascular plant species occurrences for the south coastal BC region in a period before iNaturalist.
Andrew Simon from the Institute for Multidisciplinary Ecological Research in the Salish Sea (IMERSS) was a close friend and mentee of Harvey’s. In collaboration with the CIEE and a community of botanists from the region, he intends to curate and preserve the valuable data that Harvey collected over his lifetime. This includes overseeing 1) the data rescue of his field notes, 2) the review of Harvey’s specimen data in herbarium databases, and 3) overseeing a committee of curating botanists working to complete Harvey’s last work of publishing an annotated checklist of vascular plant species for the Southern Gulf Islands and Saanich Peninsula.
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The data rescue intern, Emma Menchions, from the University of British Columbia, under the supervision of Andrew, was tasked with 1) organizing specimen material and metadata for ~65 plant specimens remaining in Harvey’s collection that had yet to be accessioned, 2) building a data digitization and processing protocol for the digitization of Harvey’s field notes, and 3) setting the groundwork of a protocol to review specimen metadata for collections hosted in the RBCM Herbarium. For the main task (task 2), she developed protocols for data entry, and used R to develop a series of reproducible scripts to review, clean, and convert this data to a standardized (Darwin Core) format. These scripts were also designed with generalizability in mind, so that they can be applied to digitize the field notes of other botanists. In the process of developing these protocols she also digitized the first 500 field note observations.
This first internship has built the framework for the data rescue process. We hope that with the help of future interns, to digitize field notes, and build-out the protocol to review specimen data in herbarium databases, it will bring us closer to our goal of publishing and cleaning this valuable data and preserving Harvey’s legacy.