Anchoring Biodiversity Information: From Sherborn to the 21st century and beyond

Event Date: 28 October 2011
Flett Lecture Theatre
Natural History Museum
London SW7 5BD

Anchoring Biodiversity Information: From Sherborn to the 21st century and beyond

Charles Davies Sherborn provided the bibliographic foundation for current zoological nomenclature with his magnum opus Index Animalium. In the 43 years he spent working on this extraordinary resource, he anchored our understanding of animal diversity through the published scientific record. No work has equalled it since and it is still in current, and critical, use.

Until now, Sherborn’s contribution has been recognised by professional taxonomists worldwide but he has escaped the celebration of his accomplishment that is his due. We will hold a symposium in his honour in the 150th year of his birth here at the NHM, with an international panel of experts on bibliography and biodiversity bioinformatics, linking a view of the past with an active debate on the future of the related fields.

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Welcome and Logistics / Introduction and dedication to Frank Bisby
(1945-2011)
Ellinor Michel (ICZN) & Graham Higley (BHL & NHM Libraries) .

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Opening Keynote: SHNH Annual Ramsbottom Lecture

Neal Evenhuis (Bishop Museum)
Charles Davies Sherborn and the Indexer’s Club
[AUDIO HERE]

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Gordon McOuat (Univ of King’s College, Halifax)
Sherborn’s context: Cataloguing nature in the late 19th century
[AUDIO HERE]

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Session 1: History of Taxonomic Literature, Indexing and Traditional Taxonomic Nomenclature

Edward Dickinson (Aves Press)
Reinforcing the foundations: Filling in the bibliographic gaps in the historical legacy
[AUDIO HERE]

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F. Christian Thompson (Smithsonian) and Thomas Pape (Copenhagen)
Systema Dipterorum: Sherborn’s critical influence in getting information control over a megadiverse group
[AUDIO HERE]

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Smithsonian Institution Libraries (Suzanne Pilsk, Martin Kalfatovic, Joel Richard)
Unlocking the Index Animalium: From paper slips to bytes and bits
[AUDIO HERE]

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Nigel Robinson (Zoological Record)
Sherborn’s Index Animalium integration into ION: access to all
[AUDIO HERE]

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Session 2: Current Taxonomic Practices

Chris Lyal (NHM)
Digitising legacy taxonomic literature: processes, products and using the output
[AUDIO HERE]

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Henning Scholz (Museum für Naturkunde Berlin)
BHL-Europe: Tools and Services for Legacy Taxonomic Literature
[AUDIO HERE]

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David Remsen (GBIF)
Biodiversity Informatics: GBIF’s role in linking information through scientific names
[AUDIO HERE]

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Daphne Fautin (Univ. Kansas/ICZN) & Miguel Alonso-Zarazaga (MNCN-CSIC/ICZN)
LANs: Lists of Available Names – a new generation for stable taxonomic names in zoology?
[AUDIO HERE]

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Session 3: Future of Biological Nomenclature

Chris Freeland (Missouri Botanical Garden)
Preserving digitized taxonomic data: problems and solutions for print, manuscript and specimen data
[AUDIO HERE]

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Sandra Knapp (NHM/IAPT/ITZN)
New workflows for describing and naming organisms
[AUDIO HERE]

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Lyubomir Penev (Pensoft Publishers)
ZooKeys: Streamlining the registration – to – publication pipeline
[AUDIO HERE]

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Rod Page (Univ. Glasgow)
Towards an open taxonomy
[AUDIO HERE]

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Closing Keynote:
Richard Pyle (Bishop Museum, HI, USA)
Towards a Global Names Architecture: The future of indexing scientific names
[AUDIO HERE]

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Panel and audience discussion on the history and future of animal names

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Poster presentations also contributed to the symposium. Here are the authors talking about their work:

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P. Bouchard, Y. Bousquet, A.E. Davies, M.A. Alonso-Zarazaga C.H.C. Lyal, A.F. Newton & A.B.T. Smith
Towards  a complete list of family-group names in Coleoptera (Insecta) with comments on dates of publication.
P. Bouchard, Y. Bousquet & A.E. Davies
Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids and Nematodes, Agriculture and Agri-Food, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
M.A. Alonso-Zarazaga
Departamento de Biodiversidad y BiologÌa Evolutiva, Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, Jose Gutierrez Abascal, Madrid, Spain
C.H.C. Lyal
Department of Entomology, The Natural History Museum, London
A.F. Newton
Zoology Department, Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, USA
A.B.T. Smith
Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Coleopterists recently synthesized data on all known extant and fossil Coleoptera family-group names for the first time (Fig. 1). A catalogue of 4887 family-group names (124 fossil, 4763 extant) based on 4707 distinct genera in Coleoptera was given. A total of 4492 names were determined to available. Names were listed in a classification framework. The authors recognized as valid 24 superfamilies, 211 families, 541 subfamilies, 1663 tribes and 740 subtribes.
   For each name, the original spelling, author, year of publication, page number, correct stem and type genus were included. The original spelling and availability of each name were checked from primary literature.
   Here we provide information about the resources that were used to infer the correct date of publication of works in which Coleoptera family-group names were proposed. We compare these resources with those that previous workers, such as C.D. Sherborn, would have used for similar projects before the advent of computers and the internet.
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Sherborniana – Artifacts of historical and heritage value from the Natural History Museum relating to CDS’s professional and personal collections

Paul Martyn Cooper

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Henning Scholz (Museum für Naturkunde Berlin)
BLE – BHL – Europe’s virtual exhibition

Jiri Frank &  Jiri Kvacek 
National museum in Prague,  Czech Republic

Jana Hoffmann
Museum f¸r Naturkunde, Leibniz Institute for Research on Evolution and Biodiversity at the Humboldt University Berlin, Germany
The Biodiversity Library Exhibition (BLE) is a virtual exhibition of the digital content in the Biodiversity Heritage Library for Europe. It is a dissemination and e-learning tool which highlights specific biodiversity content and makes it accessible for a wider audience. The first two exhibitions will feature BHL-Europe’s content on “spices” and “expeditions”, presenting beautiful illustrations and informative text in old and rare books. It will also provide useful information for the visitor, e.g. recipes. The attractive design and easy to use interface of BLE has a great potential to show that historical literature on biodiversity can be of interesting to a wide audience.
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Peter Oboyski, Joan Ball, Traci Grzymala & Kipling Will

Calbug: Digitization of California¹s Terrestrial Arthropods

Peter Oboyski, Joan Ball, Traci Grzymala & Kipling Will
Essig Museum of Entomology, University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA
Email: kipwill@berkeley.edu

Sherborn’s legacy now transcends the capture of taxonomic literature to the capture of individual specimen data from museum collections on which literature records are based. While the basic concepts and standards in data management still apply new challenges need to be met, including new data types and formats, sharing data across platforms, and the sheer volume of information to be managed.
   Although most biological data standards are now well-established, databasing of entomology collections has lagged behind other collections largely due to the quantity of specimens and the highly abbreviated and inconsistent data found on very small specimen labels. Calbug is an NSF funded collaborative of the eight major entomology collections in California that intends to capture 1.1 million specimen-level data records from our combined holdings in a Darwin Core-compliant MySQL relational database.
   We will analyze these data using geospatial technology to understand the relationship between changes in distribution and the precise nature and extent of habitat modification. Given that successfully capturing 1.1 million records would only account for a small fraction of our combined holdings, development of time-saving methods and technology for getting data from labels into databases is paramount. In the initial stage of the project we have focused on developing and testing methods and workflows to radically increase the rate of data capture, while maximizing data quality appropriate for the biotic change analyses. Digital imaging of data labels provides a more easily viewed verbatim archive of specimen data and allows subsequent off-site data entry from image files using manual entry, crowd-sourcing, and automated OCR and data parsing.
   Specimen handling, both in terms of time and risk to specimens, remains a significant obstacle to retrospective data capture from entomological collections. Georeferencing is also a challenge due to the highly abbreviated and inconsistent nature of location data on specimen labels, but a number of strategies that combine computer and human data handling are being used.
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Karolyn Shindler & Ellinor Michel

Charles Davies Sherborn: A magpie with a card index mind: Charles Davies Sherborn 1861-1942

ICZN & Natural History Museum, London, UK
Email: karolynshindler@aol.com

Charles Davies Sherborn was geologist, indexer and bibliographer extraordinaire. He was fascinated by science from an early age – although there are probably very few small boys who attempt to construct volcanoes in their gardens, the consequent explosion resulting in a visit from the police. Like so many Victorians, the young Sherborn was a passionate natural history collector and was obsessed with expanding his collection of land and freshwater shells. He later described himself as being a ‘thorough magpie’ and having ‘a card-index mind’, and these two traits coalesced in his monumental Index Animalium, an index of every known living and extinct animal from 1758 to 1850.  The Index was a true labour of love – and shamefully little financial reward – that occupied 43 years of his life. One of the first visitors through the doors of the Natural History Museum in South Kensington when it opened in 1881, Sherborn began work there seven years later as one of the small band of unofficial scientific workers, paid by the number of fossils he prepared. By the time of his death in 1942, Sherbornís corner in the Museum was the first port of call for generations of scientists seeking advice, information ñ or an invitation to one of his famous ìsmoke and chatî parties.
   In addition to his work on the Index, Sherborn is also responsible for rescuing the correspondence, manuscripts and books of Sir Richard Owen, the great Victorian comparative anatomist and the prime mover behind the creation of the NHM. The papers were ‘in a cow-shed, exposed to rats and rain’. The manuscripts were piled twelve feet high, while the correspondence filled countless packing cases. But for Sherborn, this was very heaven. In high excitement he wrote to a friend, ‘I must husband all my time and strength now, for it is a giant’s task set before me, and this must cap…my other works’.
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Darwin: A systematic naturalist, a virtuoso or a miser?

Brian Rosen & Jill Darrell
Dept. of Zoology & Dept. of Palaeontology, Natural History Museum, London, UK
Email: B.Rosen@nhm.ac.uk

Although the publication details of many natural history specimens are generally well-documented in museum collections, it is also not uncommon for the published status of other specimens, such as types, to be incomplete, uncertain or unknown. This can happen when original documentation was insufficient, or when it has become separated from the specimen, mislaid, or even lost altogether. Here, we suggest a methodological framework (‘collection trajectory’) for reconstructing or recovering such information.
   Charles Robert Darwin (1809-1882) was a prolific collector of geological and biological specimens. As he said of himself, ‘The passion for collecting, which leads a man to be a systematic naturalist, a virtuoso or a miser, was very strong in me, & was clearly innate, as none of my sisters or brother ever had this taste’. Provisional results of a recent survey carried out by us suggest that the Natural History Museum holds over 14,000 of his specimens, including significant types, and almost entirely biological. The bulk of them are beetles and barnacles, though the Museum also holds most of his birds, mammals (living and fossil), fish, reptiles and amphibians, as described in the ‘Zoology of the Beagle’ (Darwin 1838-43).  Substantial Darwin collections also exist elsewhere, notably his geological material at the University of Cambridge.
   Many labels of Darwin’s specimens give only very brief information, while other specimens which might have been collected and/or studied by Darwin, bear little or no evidence of that. Many people therefore think that Darwin’s specimen documentation was poor. In fact, he was extremely methodical in this, and worked hard to practise his own advice that the ‘collector’s motto’ should be ‘ ‘Trust nothing to the memory’, for the memory becomes a fickle guardian when one interesting object is succeeded by another still more interesting.’ As a result, he left us a complex legacy of lists, field notebooks and diaries.  Ironically though, this complexity can make it difficult to find the necessary information about a given specimen. It is therefore essential to understand the relationship between these various sources, and also Darwinís specimen numbering system.
   How can this legacy be used to recover relevant information for any given specimen?  Our ‘generalized collection trajectory’ provides a nine-point framework for working methodically through all the potential sources of information about a given collection of Darwin’s.  We also suggest that a similar approach might be used for other people’s collections where similar problems exist.  For Darwin in particular, this led us to revise and extend earlier reviews of Darwin’s specimen lists.  In our poster, (and as an aid to identifying previously uncertain specimens), we include illustrations of the number-tags Darwin used for his dry specimens, and give examples showing how our trajectory approach sheds further light on some examples of NHM coral reef specimens.
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F. W. Welter-Schultes, A. Görlich & A. Lutze

Sherborn’s Index Animalium – Systematic errors, mistakes and outdated judgements in the light of modern zoological nomenclature: An analysis based on the examination of 40,000 taxonomic names.
F. W. Welter-Schultes, A. Görlich & A. Lutze 
AnimalBase and Index Animalium
Welter-Schultes, F. 
Zoologisches Institut der Universit‰t, Göttingen
Görlich, A. &  Lutze, A.
E-mail: fwelter@gwdg.de
Appreciating Sherborn’s tremendous work implies understanding to which extent Sherborn’s index data can be used for nomenclatural purposes today. In the course of the AnimalBase project to digitise early zoological literature and provide a taxonomic names database we cross-checked our own manual examinations of 40,000 new names in the original sources with those of Sherborn’s Index Animalium. For each examined work we extracted all new names under the present-day nomenclatural rules (4th edition of the ICZN Code), and compared our results with Sherborn’s list extracted from the same work.
   It was crucial to know how to read the Index, only 70% of the 420,000 names in Sherborn’s list were marked as new (300,000 new names). We found that Sherborn’s data were consistent with our own finds at an average rate of 80-90 %. The degree of reliability of Sherborn’s data differed by work and by animal group, and depended on various factors. The rate of misspellings in Sherborn’s manual work was low, lower than in the AnimalBase project, but naturally not zero. The proportion of overlooked names in each work depended on its style. Sherborn did not have all important works at his disposal.
   Some categories of systematic errors and mistakes were under Sherborn’s responsibility (obvious difficulties in understanding foreign languages except Latin, careless examination of difficult works to save time, neglecting subspecific names), others have to do with the nomenclatural rules having changed in the past 100 years (criteria for availability of names, corrections of incorrect Latin, authorships for names, unavailability of non-binominal works).
   Sherborn was confronted with many problems we also had in our own work. This included the difficulty to maintain a common standard over time. We came to the conclusion that anyone who intends to repeat Sherborn’s job will inevitably be fascinated by his low non-systematic error rates.
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Leslie Overstreet & Grace Constantino

Online Synergy: Sherborn’s Ondex Animalium & the Biodiversity Heritage Library

 

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Sponsors

  • ICZN – Int’l Commission on Zoological Nomenclature
  • SHNH – Society for the History of Natural History
  • Linnean Society
  • BHL-Europe – Biodiversity Heritage Library-Europe
  • Pensoft Publishers (ZooKeys)
  • NHM – Natural History Museum, Science Directorate
  • ViBRANT – Virtual Biodiversity

Supportive organisations
Geological Association, ZSL – Zoological Society of London, NMNH Smithsonian Institution Libraries, NHM Libraries, NHM Centre for Arts and Humanities (CAH), The Ray Society, Aves Press (Zoological Bibliography), Zoological Record, The Natural History Book Store, IAPT (Int’l Assoc Plant Taxonomy), Minding Animals International

A recent article in the Telegraph and the NHM house journal evolve begins the celebration of Sherborn in this anniversary year: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/8646534/Charles-Davies-Sherborn-the-Natural-History-Museums-magpie-with-a-card-index-mind.html

 

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