The National Science Foundation (NSF) recently awarded the Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT®) $1.5 million over four years to digitize its 355,000 herbarium specimen collections from Texas and Oklahoma.
The prestigious grant is part of a larger project that brings together 46 collaborating herbaria from across these two states and elsewhere to digitize the data from nearly two million plant specimens. The project funding totals $4.7 million, which supports BRIT as the lead institution, with co-leads at the University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M University, the University of Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State University, as well as 11 other institutions.
“This grant will help to close a large geographic gap in our knowledge of North American plant biodiversity and facilitate both regional and larger-scale efforts in solving environmental issues,” said NSF Program Director Reed Beaman.
The digitization process will involve specimen image capture, transcription of label data, addition of geographic coordinates, and the dissemination of the data through searchable online portals.
“We were thrilled to get this news,” said BRIT Vice President of Research Peter Fritsch. “This project is primed for action through the integration of Texas and Oklahoma Regional Consortium of Herbaria (TORCH), which will help oversee and guide the project and in which BRIT has played a lead role since its inception in 2006.”
Other project goals include involving members of plant enthusiast organizations (such as native plant and naturalists societies) in specimen data entry; contributing to a globally competitive STEM workforce through workshops and lectures for technicians and practical training for undergraduate interns; developing and implementing innovative strategies to increase efficiency in specimen digitization, and more.