Discover Life on Earth

Research Highlights

iDigBio: Advancing Digitization of Biological Collections

iDigBio logoUniversity of Florida and Florida Museum scientists, in collaboration with Florida State University, were awarded a $10 million grant by the National Science Foundation in 2011 to coordinate institutions in 45 states working to digitize the nation's biological collections. Available to anyone online, the natural history data and its increased accessibility will help researchers identify gaps in scientific knowledge and could assist government agencies and others making decisions related to climate change, conservation, invasive species, biodiversity and other biological issues.

The project is led by Larry Page of the Florida Museum and includes UF's College of Engineering Advanced Computing Information Systems Laboratory and FSU's Center for Information Management and Scientific Communication.  Together they will create software and databases the nationwide participants will use to transfer and store the data. The information in the digitized collections will include field notes, photographs, 3-D images and information on associated organisms, geographic distribution, environmental habitat and specimen DNA samples.

The award also will fund a new undergraduate course on bioinformatics, fellowships for graduate students and sabbatical programs for at-risk junior faculty at UF. A website, museum exhibit and social media will allow researchers to document their activities and innovations, as well as communicate with museum visitors and groups interested in digitized natural history data.

All Catfish Species Inventory

Larry Page with Tiger catfish

Larry Page examines a tiger catfish (Pseudoplatystoma fasciatum)

The Planetary Biodiversity Inventory is a multi-million dollar program funded by the National Science Foundation. The goal of the program is to accelerate the discovery and study of the world's biodiversity by supporting teams of investigators who conduct worldwide, species-level inventories of diverse groups of organisms.

The Florida Museum and Curator of Ichthyology Larry Page are leading one of the projects, the All Catfish Species Inventory, the goal of which is to complete a global record of catfish. The program is expected to result in the discovery and description of as many as 1,750 new species of catfishes and, ultimately, in the description of between 2,300 and 4,600 new species of freshwater fishes.

Andean Butterflies

Keith Willmott with Andean butterflies in the collection

Keith Willmott displays

Almost 30 percent of the world's butterfly species live in the tropical Andes, although accurate numbers are hard to provide since many species are still undiscovered or poorly known. McGuire Center Assistant Curator Keith Willmott is working to fill this information void by studying Andean butterfly diversity.

His collaborative, long-term studies of butterflies in Ecuador have resulted in the discovery and description of more than 100 new species during the past 15 years. Willmott and his colleagues are also amassing the first large-scale dataset of butterfly distributions for the tropical Andes — information necessary for assessing a species' conservation status. Because butterflies often serve as sentinels of environmental health, studying them contributes to our knowledge of tropical habitats and their preservation.

Coral Reefs

Crustacean Aniculus maximus from Guam

(Aniculus maximus) | Guam

We live at a critical time for biodiversity as the Earth undergoes profound alterations related to human activities, resulting in a mass extinction that is erasing much of our biological heritage before it is even documented. The research program of Curator of Malacology Gustav Paulay focuses on the biodiversity of coral reefs, ecosystems that are rapidly becoming endangered by rising sea temperatures and ocean acidity.

He and his team participated in several recent large-scale reef surveys, and are currently co-initiating a Florida marine invertebrate survey. Every survey has netted at least 1,000 species, with associated digital images, and tissue samples that are having their genetic barcodes sequenced. These imaging and molecular efforts are giving scientists the ability to distinguish cryptic species that previously were lumped together as one.

The Florida Museum's invertebrate zoology online database now contains more records than any other collection in the world except the Smithsonian Institution. The collection is one of three across the world selected to join an international effort organized by the Consortium for the Barcode of Life and the Census of Marine Life to provide specimens for the first major push to genetically characterize all marine species. This program will help scientists better document and understand biodiversity in tropical oceans, so that future generations have the best information available for managing and restoring the world's coral reefs.

Evolution & Extinction of Tropical Birds

Blue-chinned Sapphire hummingbird

David Steadman carefully holds a male Blue-chinned Sapphire (Chlorestes notata) captured in a mist-net in Trinidad, an island teeming with hummingbirds.

Curator of Ornithology David Steadman studies fossils of tropical birds that are hundreds to millions of years old. Along with Ordway Chair of Ecosystem Conservation Scott Robinson, he also surveys modern bird communities to understand the habitat preferences of tropical birds and their vulnerability or resilience to human impacts.

By combining information from both prehistoric and living birds, Steadman and Robinson can gauge the long-term effects of natural and human-induced habitat changes upon tropical bird communities, and figure out why some species are common while others are rare or even have become extinct. Such information is crucial for effective long-term management of tropical habitats.

A very high priority for the Florida Museum's Ornithology program is to make expeditions to some of the world's most remote tropical localities in order to survey the poorly studied or unstudied bird life. In tropical Ornithology, the age of discovery is far from over.

Tree of Life

The Tree of Life Web Project is an international collaborative effort of biologists from around the world. On more than 9,000 web pages, the project provides information about the diversity of organisms on Earth and their evolutionary history and characteristics. The pages are linked hierarchically in the form of the evolutionary tree of life, thus illustrating the genetic connections between all living things. Several Florida Museum scientists are major participants in this worldwide collaborative effort.

 

Other Museum Research & Resources

Florida Program for Shark Research

The FPSR is involved in many areas of shark research, including shark biology, ecology, and behavior. In addition, the FPSR monitors shark attacks through the International Shark Attack File and promotes shark conservation and educational outreach through such programs as Project Shark Awareness.

Research on Freshwater Fishes

Find out more about the findings from several active research teams studying invertebrates around the world.

Herbarium Research Projects

Herbarium staff and students participate in diverse projects spanning traditional morphological plant systematics, floristics, plant anatomy, molecular analysis and pollination ecology.

Invertebrate Zoology Research

Find out more about the findings from several active research teams studying invertebrates around the world.

Science Stories

Science Stories is an ongoing collection of news articles about Florida Museum natural science research. From collecting expeditions to new discoveries by Museum researchers, Science Stories covers a range of topics for aspiring scientists and curious spectators.

South Florida Aquatic Environments

Learn about three imperiled south Florida ecosystems - the Everglades, Florida Bay, and Florida Keys - along with the role of museum collections in providing a historical taxonomic and distribution database.

Spineless Science Research Blog

A blog about the field and lab adventures of the Invertebrate Zoology division.

 

Museum Collections

Sergeant major fish Photo © Barbara Shively

Sergeant major (Abudefduf saxatilis) Photo © Barbara Shively

Visit these Museum collection websites for more information: