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MAM Project at Rutgers: Digitization of Mid-Atlantic Flora

The Mid-Atlantic Megalopolis (MAM) project (funded as a NSF-ADBC grant) is a combined effort by 12 institutions to digitize approximately 700,000 specimens found in northeastern USA. The primary focus is to provide herbarium collection data to better understand the influence of urbanization on the flora and fauna of this coastal corridor from New York City to Washington D.C.  By making herbarium specimen data available for big data analysis of combined temporal, spatial, and land use variables, scientists will be able to look at both species and ecosystem changes through time. Urban floras are constantly changing, and to help us understand these living systems in historical and climate change perspectives, we need to investigate the flora that existed in the past, exists today, and what might exist in the future.

At Rutgers University students contribute to this project in meaningful ways that both furthers the research and teaches students key skills related to botany. Undergraduate students benefit in their careers from their involvement and commitment to this effort, not only when it comes to specific biological collection skills, but also in general life skills. Students also practice the early stages of collecting specimen and location data from digitized specimens. A large project such as this requires a dedicated effort from staff, students, and volunteers. At Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, we have a student-driven Herbarium Army led by for-credit undergraduates working their way through specimen preparation, barcoding, and imaging. Once the images are processed, they are uploaded online, where they are transcribed and geo-referenced for further analysis. With this process, we are “bringing out the beauty (and data) within” the steel herbarium cabinets, and making the data available on a global scale.

The long-term data beneficiaries of the MAM project will be a wide array of people, ranging from citizen scientists, to professional or amateur botanists, even reaching urban developers and restoration ecologists. We foresee that the release of up to 200 years of botanical collection data for this region will help research and conservation efforts for another 200 years to come.