“In a time when museums and schools are losing natural history collections and giving up due to costs, we are recognizing the information held in these specimens is only getting more valuable,” said project co-principal investigator Luke Tornabene, assistant professor of aquatic and fishery sciences at the University of Washington (UW) and curator of fishes at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture.
“I think this project is going to help create a renaissance of the importance of natural history collections,” he said.
The UW joins 15 other institutions in this new project, led by the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida. The grant will enable researchers over four years to transport specimens from museum collections to scanners, scan and upload images, and organize them on the public database MorphoSource for easy access.
More than one quarter of the world’s vertebrate species will be scanned and digitized through this project, and researchers will aim to include specimens from more than 80 percent of existing vertebrate genera. A selection of these will also be scanned with contrast-enhancing stains to characterize soft tissues. There are almost 70,000 vertebrate species described today, and more than half of those are fishes.