The University of
Daniel Adams is one of the Charles T. Mohr Interns in the University of North Carolina Herbarium this summer. He is from Johnston County, North Carolina and graduated with a Biology major from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in May 2012.
Daniel is delving into the mycological (fungus) collections of the University of North Carolina. This important collection was the life-work of Dr. John Nathaniel Couch, Dr. William Chambers Coker, Ms. Alma Holland Beers, and numerous UNC graduate students in the early 20th century. The specimens represent not only their collections, but also specimens that were sent to them for identification or as reference material. After Dr. Couch’s death in 1986, Bill Burk, the Couch Biology Librarian, served as the custodian for the collection as a favor to Herbarium staff. However, the Herbarium had neither the staff nor funds to devote to curation of the mycological collection. As a result of the collection being arranged for Dr. Couch’s personal use, a short-lived attempt in the 1970’s to re-arrange the collection (only one or two cases were done), and specimens that returned from loan being annotated to different names (or even families!), it became increasingly difficult for herbarium staff to find specimens.
Less than ideal “organization” of mycological collection
In 2011 the New York Botanical Garden contacted the University of North Carolina Herbarium to inquire about the size of the mycological collection and to gauge our interest in participating in a project to make digital images of specimen labels. Asst. Curator Carol Ann McCormick did a very quick estimate of the number of specimens (25,000 minimum), and we replied with an enthusiastic, “Yes, we’d love to participate!”
Just after graduation, Daniel began to re-organize the fungal collection. Since Dr. Couch’s day, there have been many changes to fungal taxonomy and nomenclature. After consultation with Dr. Barbara Thiers of the New York Botanical Garden and Dr. Larry Grand of North Carolina State University, Daniel decided that organizing the collection alphabetically by genus and species would render the collection most accessible to current & future researchers, students, and curators. Daniel began the project by emptying all the cases that line the 3rd floor hallways of Coker and stacking the various boxes, trays and envelopes full of fungi in the vacant botany library space in Coker Hall to construct the Fortress of Fungi. As of June 29, he has re-organized and replaced genera beginning with A and B into their cases!
Daniel Adams’ Fortress of Fungi
Once the collection is completely re-organized and back in the cases, Daniel will begin the real work of the digitization project. The project’s official title is, “The Macrofungal Collection Consortium: Unlocking a Biodiversity Resource for Understanding Biotic Interactions, Nutrient Cycling and Human Affairs,” and is fondly referred to as MaCC by participants.
From wood-rotting fungi that clear the forest floor of dead wood to the chanterelles and truffles in our food, mushrooms and other large showy fungi (macrofungi) play a critical role in the lives of plants and animals, including the health and welfare of humans. Yet the numbers of different species of these fungi are largely unknown.
Understanding the biodiversity of fungi will be critical in analyzing the effects of habitat change, nutrient cycling in ecosystems, and distributions and diversity of host organisms.
Scientists in the United States have been studying and collecting macrofungi for the past 150 years, which has produced a legacy of some 1.4 million dried scientific specimens, in 35 institutions in 24 states. These institutions joined forces in an effort to digitize and share online data associated with these specimens. The resulting resource will enable a national census of macrofungi, and will allow researchers to better understand the diversity of these organisms and the relationships between macrofungi and the other species, such as lichens, in which fungi and algae form a wide variety of biotic partnerships. 1
Daniel will affix a barcode to each specimen, and then take a digital photo of the label, and enter the genus and species into an electronic spreadsheet that is hosted by the new York Botanical Garden. Optical character recognition (OCR), the electronic conversion of scanned images of handwritten, typewritten, or printed text into machine-encoded text, will be used to transform the label information (place and date of collection, collector, other notes) into a searchable database. While this will be relatively straightforward for typewritten labels, we anticipate that the task will be much more difficult with handwritten labels. While Alma Holland Beers had lovely, legible handwriting, the same cannot be said for Dr. Coker’s penmanship! This is where another aspect of the digitization project comes into play: crowd sourcing.
Citizen mycologists in clubs and nature societies across the country play an important role in documenting macrofungi diversity. They are a critical link between professional scientists and the general public. In this project, a unique collaboration of citizen mycologists will combine forces with professional staff member at the scientific institutions housing collections of fungi to help create online resources. 1
In other words, users of the database will interpret and enter the handwritten data. (Anyone who has used the Federal Census images on Ancestry.com may be familiar with the process of reading the handwritten form, then typing the information as they interpret it into the appropriate database fields.) While it may take years (decades?) for the label information for each specimen in our collection to be fully entered into the searchable database, at least the image of the label will be readily available to anyone who wishes to use it.
With Daniel’s hard work, the University of North Carolina Herbarium’s mycological collection will be available to fungus lovers everywhere via the MYCOLOGY COLLECTIONS PORTAL. Look for NCU’s collections there in the near future!
lavender-colored fungi; Orange County, North Carolina; 24 August 2005
photo by Will Cook; used with permission
OK! Crowd, identify!!
1. "NSF Awards Second Round of Grants to Advance Digitization of Biological Collections." National Science Foundation Directorate for Geosciences. N.p., 01 May 2012. Web. 29 Jun 2012.
University of North Carolina
CB# 3280, Coker Hall
University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3280
phone: (919) 962-6931
fax: (919) 962-6930
Last Updated: 29 June 2012