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.