All about Ranges

A community of practice

Image by Bryan McLean ©

Project Summary

Over the past two decades, digitization of U.S. vertebrate collections has opened critical temporal, spatial, and taxonomic information from specimens, stimulating new levels of data sharing and significantly advancing biodiversity knowledge. However, still missing are the specimen-level trait data essential for establishing faunal baselines and informing predictions of global change response. We propose the Ranges Digitization Network (Ranges), which will close this gap by mobilizing an estimated >5 million trait measurements from 1.2 million specimens from Western North America (WNA). WNA is a region of high temperate mammal diversity and a natural laboratory for studying speciation, phenotypic diversification, biogeographic principles, and community assembly over deep and shallow timescales. To build capacity for transformative research in these areas, Ranges brings together a digitization network of 19 institutions, expands informatics tools for trait extraction and standardization from specimen records, and immediately (in Year 1) provisions specimen-linked trait data in usable form via existing portals. The specific goals of Ranges will be to: 1) Digitize traits from 1.2 million mammal specimens, append these to digital records, and publish openly in community repositories; 2) digitize, georeference, and mobilize four regionally significant mammal collections, making their data research-ready for the first time; and 3) develop dense, intraspecific-level 3D image resources for >3,500 mammal specimens to facilitate acquisition of complex internal traits that can be linked to complimentary, specimen-level datasets existing in an extended specimen network.

Intellectual Merit

Ranges will advance NSF’s dual goals of digitizing vouchered materials and advancing scientific knowledge using those materials, for the good of science and society. The network builds on previous cyberinfrastructure investments to speed delivery of key phenotypic measurements that currently exist in varying states of digitization, standardization, harmonization and mobilization, which makes them difficult to discover and use. Ranges will extend proven informatics tools, develop new collaborative trait data standards, and engage a network of 19 large and small digitizing collections to openly provision traits to portals that form the nodes of an extended network for western North American mammals. This will create capacity for new cross-cutting biodiversity research, including by synergizing with prior digitization efforts (e.g., CAP, SoRo, TPT, oVert TCNs) and other initiatives focused on global change response, including NEON. Delivery of trait data in standard exchange formats, and their straightforward integration with other biodiversity data resources, will transform our understanding of mammal phenology; genotype-phenotype- environment relationships; complex morphological traits; host-parasite association and dynamics; and population- and species-level response to global change across WNA, including in the New Arctic. Finally, new data standards and workflows will contribute to research and informatics capacity that the entire collections community will be able to emulate into the future.

Broader Impacts

The impact of Ranges is three-fold. First, Ranges will re-connect the mammal collections community across WNA, fostering strategic planning, the furthering of data norms and standards, and cross-collaboration with informaticians. Second, Ranges will cultivate a skilled human workforce that reflects the racial and cultural diversity of WNA itself. It will proactively develop this workforce pipeline by hosting annual research- and specimen-focused workshops with PIs and a diverse body of undergraduate and graduate student participants from 18 states. Workshops will be held remotely to facilitate broad-scale participation, and participants will emerge with a working knowledge of biodiversity data resources. Third, Ranges will engage with participants in public science, as well as the general public, in two immersive ways. To detect and digitize traits hidden in historic field notes, the network will leverage the Notes from Nature platform to link academics, museum professionals, and the science-interested public to pinpoint and transcribe hard-to-find trait data. The network will also partner with three public-facing institutions across WNA (Denver, Seattle, and Los Angeles) to convey Ranges activities in dedicated exhibit spaces or via use of temporary video displays, reaching thousands of visitors over the life of the project.