Digitization-identification pipeline accelerates museum collection management

Curating Natural History Museum collections includes cataloging all material and making the information available to scientists worldwide. This is a daunting task for the millions of invertebrates in collections. Bringing some structure in these collections is challenging because many specimens lack identification or are sometimes even misidentified. Finding the correct name for invertebrates requires an up-to-date knowledge of the taxonomic status of the group and often a decent amount of experience to look at the right diagnostic features to recognize the individual species. For this reason, taxonomic experts are generally invited to contribute to the identification process. Classically, this meant to either send the material to the expert or have the expert visit the collections. Sending specimens is expensive and risky, there are several recent examples of type material that was “lost” at international borders. To help with this challenge, BINCO developed a digitalization-identification pipeline which was based on volunteers and a cheap setup of a point-and-shoot camera. This method limits the material that needs to be exchanged with taxonomic experts and accelerates the identification process and the organization of natural history collections.

In a pilot project, BINCO digitized all specimens and associated information of the genus Calligrapha (Coleoptera - Chrysomelidae) in the collections of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Science (RBINS). In collaboration with the taxonomic expert Jesús Gómez-Zurita, the identification of specimens was accelerated. This allowed the reorganization of this part of the RBINS collection. Results of this project were published in the journal Biodiversity Informatics and can be found here.

New longhorn beetle from Cusuco National Park – Honduras

This charismatic new species of longhorn (Derobrachus cusucoensis) from montane forest in Cusuco National Park adds to the biological valorisation of the area. A small isolated mountain, part of the Merendon mountain range, Cusuco National Park is a cloud forest park characterised by a high endemism. As in many other places in Honduras, deforestation is a serious threat. The newly described large beetle is a frequent visitor of the light trap surveys as part of the yearly repeated biodiversity monitoring by Operation Wallacea in collaboration with BINCO. BINCO specializes in the documentation of smaller and less studied taxonomic groups to complement local conservation efforts and help protect these unique ecosystems. The species is described in the scientific journal Zootaxa and can be retrieved here.

New publication: using compact cameras in digitization projects

In the scope of a digitization project at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, we developed a new method to facilitate digitization of museum specimens. The new method had to be relatively cheap and fast. These requirements were met by use of a compact camera with focus stacking functionality which allows the camera to take multiple images at different focus depths. Afterwards, these sets of images are combined to form one picture in which the entire specimen is in focus. The development of cheap and fast methods is important because most museums face a shortage of personnel and infrastructure to keep up with digitizing their ever-growing collections. Our method is currently being used in project Chrysomel’ID with the valuable help of several volunteers.

The results of our research have been published in the open access journal ZooKeys. The pdf file can be found on our publication page.

Sheka, Ethiopia, Biodiversity Express Survey – Report available

Outcomes of the biodiversity survey on our second expedition to Southwest Ethiopia are published in the fifth Biodiversity Express Survey report. The Sheka forest is a UNESCO biosphere reserve and is one of the largest remaining forest fragments in the country. Sheka forest reserve hosts a wide range of habitats from highland bamboo moorland to lowland riverine forest, and little is known on what species can be found here. We therefore surveyed amphibian, mammal and bird diversity along with opportunistic observations of reptiles, butterflies and epiphytic orchids. Additional information will be added to this report as it becomes available.

Newly discovered populations of the Ethiopian endemic and endangered banana frog (Afrixalus clarkei)

As the natural forest cover in Ethiopia is already less than 3% of what it once has been, the banana frog species Afrixalus clarkei, dwelling exclusively in the remnants of the country’s southwestern forests in only two populations, is exposed to a great risk of extinction.
Through our BINCO express survey in 2015 in the Beleta-Gera forest we extended the species’ range, thus making the first steps to saving the charming frogs.
The geographical range of the Ethiopian banana frog has been expanded by roughly 40 km towards the North and 70 km to the East. Its altitudinal distribution already reaches a maximum of 2030 metres above sea level, compared to the previously known maximum of 1800 m.

The study is published in the open-access journal ZooKeys and can be downloaded here.

Short note: Crested rat in Ethiopia

During our expedition in Southwest Ethiopia last year (2014), we discovered a crested rat (Lophiomys imhausi) on one of our camera traps which, to our knowledge, is the first capture of this species on a camera trap in the wild. This elusive rodent has never before been recorded in Afromontane rainforest West of the Rift valley. In this short note, published in the African Journal of Ecology, we add our observation to its previously known distribution.

The original camera trap recording:


Article with recent findings of the shining guest ant in Flanders

Our finding of a worker of the shining guest ant (August 2014, during the translocation of wood ant nest domes) was not the only one in recent years. According to the Red List of endangered species the shining guest ant status is vulnerable, but probably the species is more common than we think. Her presence often goes unnoticed because of the hidden lifestyle and small size. Observations of this species, along with a suggestion to revise the Red List status were brought together in this article (English abstract only) in the Bulletin of the Royal Belgian Entomological Society.

Belete-Gera, Ethiopia, Biodiversity Express Survey – Report available

The first results of our expedition to Southwest Ethiopia are published in our third Biodiversity Express Survey. The Gera forest is one of the larger remaining fragments of forest left in the country. The biodiversity within the forest, however, is not well understood. Therefore, we surveyed amphibian, mammal and ground beetle diversity along with opportunistic observations of birds, reptiles, butterflies and dragonflies. This report will be updated with new information once it becomes available.