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UW’s Rocky Mountain Herbarium Part of Major Digital Archive Project

November 9, 2017

The University of Wyoming’s Rocky Mountain Herbarium is a leading partner in a $2.9 million award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to create a comprehensive digital archive of more than 1.7 million plant specimens native to the southern Rocky Mountain region.

The University of Colorado-Boulder is the principal lead for the award, which includes 38 universities, botanical gardens, national parks and Native American nations.

The Rocky Mountain Herbarium, as the largest herbarium in the region, will contribute a significant number of specimens and will assist smaller institutions in their digitizing and imaging efforts.

Once it is completed, researchers and the public will be able to access the database for information about the region’s more than 4,000 plant species, from specimens collected from the 1800s to the present. The map-based application will allow visualization of species’ distributions and make available high-resolution images of plant specimens.

“Herbarium specimens are used more and more to document natural resources, elucidate evolutionary relationships and processes, describe the effects of climate change, and to identify organisms and landscapes of conservation concern,” says Rocky Mountain Herbarium curator Burrell “Ernie” Nelson. “Consolidating specimen data from these institutions will lead to more and better understanding of these topics in the southern Rocky Mountains, and may bring to light patterns that have been previously invisible.”

The Rocky Mountain Herbarium is already a leader in the region and among herbaria, in collection size, activity and its online database of digitized specimens. NSF support will make it possible to increase the rate of specimen digitization and imaging, and integrate an estimated 670,000 southern Rocky Mountain specimens into the new “Southern Rockies” portal.

As curator, Nelson will oversee specimen selection and imaging at the herbarium. Larry Schmidt, of the UW Libraries, is project manager for the digital processing and workflow. UW Libraries also is involved in the data management, file processing and preservation aspects of the project.

The southern Rocky Mountain region, as defined for this project, includes the mountains, basins and high plains of southern Wyoming, Colorado and northern New Mexico; the continuous high plains to the east of those states; and the Colorado Plateau in eastern Utah and northern Arizona.

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