The Herbarium at West Virginia University, the largest collection of preserved plant specimens in the state, is participating in a National Science Foundation-funded project to make plant collections from the Southeast United States available online for international study.

The Advancing Digitization of Biodiversity Collections program is funding the four-year project, “The Key to the Cabinets: Building and Sustaining a Research Database for a Global Diversity Hotspot.” The $46,222 award will help to purchase new equipment, which includes a digital camera, copy stand and lights, as well as pay for student workers to sort through the specimens and take pictures.

The information gathered from this project will help improve the understanding of human impact on biodiversity. Those working in the field do not currently have a complete inventory of the flora in the Southeastern United States.

“I know exactly how many specimens we have from West Virginia. I know exactly how many specimens we have all together, but we don’t have them itemized by state, so we have no idea,” Donna Ford-Werntz, clinical associate professor of biology and herbarium curator, said. “This is a wonderful process of discovery about our own collection and what we have here.”

WVU’s Herbarium, located in the Department of Biology, will be working with collections from 12 other states.

This region includes the following southeastern states: Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. There will be 106 herbaria participating in the project from these states, and a herbarium from Texas, which has many specimens from the area being studied.

Ford-Werntz is the project director for WVU’s efforts. She will purchase the necessary equipment, as well as supervise students as they sort through and image the specimens. WVU will be partnering directly with Marshall University’s herbarium on the project.

Student workers sort the specimens by folder color: Blue for West Virginia, red for other states and yellow for other countries. After being imaged, the pictures of the specimens will be uploaded to sites such as Notes From Nature, where the label information will be digitally transcribed by citizen scientists. This information will also be uploaded to a national portal, called Integrated Digitized Biocollections, and an international portal called the Global Biodiversity Information Facility.

Participating organizations will be studying the different species, so that they understand what the plants are, and what their environment is like. The project will also help those in the field understand the biology and life cycles of the different species.

“What we’re doing is pretty simple, but it has far reaching implications,” Ford-Werntz said.



CONTACT: Devon Copeland, Director of Marketing and Communication, Eberly College of Arts and Sciences, West Virginia University, 304-293-6867,

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