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Virtual Access Call 1 Results

05 Oct 2020

19 SYNTHESYS+ partners are offering Virtual Access (VA) to their collections. Researching a collection often requires being present in the collection itself. Virtual Access aims to remove the reliance on physical access by piloting a 'Digitisation on Demand' (DoD) model. In Call 1, c. €500,000 was allocated to pilot digitisation projects, where collection items will be digitised on behalf of a research community by SYNTHESYS+ Access partners.

We are delighted to announce the first 5 projects to be funded by the Virtual Access programme. The second Call of Virtual Access will open for applications in Spring 2020. 

The results of Call 1 of Virtual Access are below.  

  1. Data mobilisation for IUCN conservation assessments of global freshwater bioindicators
  2. Digitization of wild bees (Hymenoptera: Antophila) in the collection of the Finnish Museum of Natural History (LUOMUS)
  3. COVID-19 Chiropteran knowledge base
  4. Digitization of Greenlandic peat moss (Sphagnum) collections
  5. Digitization of Dianthus collections

1. Data mobilisation for IUCN conservation assessments of global freshwater bioindicators

Participating institutions: NHM, RMCA, MfN

The IPBES 2019 report states that over a million species are threatened with extinction, and nearly 75% of freshwater resources are now devoted to crop or livestock production. Freshwater habitats cover less than 1% of the planet’s surface and support up to 10% of known species. Freshwater invertebrates play a vital role as standard indicators of water and habitat health, and while the distribution of species is relatively well known in Europe, there are still gaps in our knowledge. Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera, Trichoptera (EPT) rely on good quality water and surrounding terrestrial habitats directly to complete their life cycles and sustain healthy populations. Despite the importance for biomonitoring, as prey items for fish and birds, and their cultural significance, over 20,000 species of EPT have largely been overlooked when considering the conservation of freshwater invertebrates. As a result, a new IUCN SSC Specialist Group for Mayflies, Stoneflies and Caddisflies has been formed to help tackle these issues and one of the first steps is mobilising existing data. Museum collections therefore represent a huge, untapped resource of information on the distribution and life histories of freshwater insects. 

2. Digitization of wild bees in the collection of the Finnish Museum of Natural History (LUOMUS)

Participating institutions: LUOMUS

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) published a world-wide report on the status of pollinators in 2016. This report highlighted the poor status and decline of numbers of pollinators in many countries. In Finland the status of pollinators is poorly known, and there has been no monitoring of pollinator populations. An ongoing nationally funded project “Status and monitoring of pollinators and the economic value of pollination for agriculture in Finland” (acronym PÖLYHYÖTY) is currently investigating and calculating long-term trend indices for wild bee species occurring in Finland. An obstacle for this goal has, however, been the lack of information on the occurrence of bees older than the last ca. 30 years. A solution to this problem are the natural history collections, the most important being the collection of the Finnish Museum of Natural History, where ca. 60 000 wild bee specimens from different times and different areas across Finland are deposited. The suggested VA project aims at digitizing these collections to allow calculation of population trends of wild bees in Finland across a period of several decades.

3. COVID-19 Chiroptera knowledge base

Participating institutions: HMNH, RMCA, MfN, MNHN, NMP, NHM, NHMW, SMNS, Senckenberg

Amidst the pandemic caused by the pathogen SARS-CoV-2, the virus’s animal origin is a critical mystery to solve. More than 200 novel coronaviruses have been found in bats so far, and cca. 35% of bat virome sequenced to date is composed of coronaviruses. But still only a fraction of the known species of the second most speciose order of mammals have been screened for viruses. Of the Coronaviridae family the most similar virus to the one which causes the recent pandemic was found in a common Southeast Asian horseshoe bat species, Rhinolophus affinis. Experts of the CETAF’s COVID-19 Taskforce have suggested to accumulate our present knowledge on the distribution, viral information and basic ecological demands not only of the horseshoe bats (Rhinolophidae) but also the phylogenetically most closely related families, Hipposideridae and Rhinonycteridae. Some recent studies in viruses were not always rigorous enough to deposit the study material in publicly available collections (which, among other advantages, makes the identification testable). However, it is essential to know if material currently preserved in collections can be useful for subsequent virus studies. For this reason, a list of material (more than 20 thousand specimens of the above families estimated) housed in European collections participating in the Synthesys+ virtual access call, would be essential.

4. Digitization of Greenlandic peat moss (Sphagnum) collections

Participating institutions: SNM, NHMW, BGM

Due to its large gradients in latitude, temperature and humidity, and fast-changing environments, Greenland is a key Arctic region to study ongoing changes in polar regions. Sphagnum peat mosses play a key role in polar tundra and wetland ecosystems in terms of biomass, carbon sequestration and nitrogen fixation. The peat-forming Sphagnum wetlands are of global importance as the largest carbon sinks on land. However, most studies investigating changes in the Arctic flora focus on Greenland’s vascular flora, despite the importance of bryophytes, and in particular the peat mosses, in the Arctic ecosystem. We hereby seek funding to digitise the labels of about 4450 Greenlandic Sphagnum moss collections (~26 species) at the herbaria at Copenhagen (C, c. 4200 specimens), Vienna (W, c. 150), Meise (BR, c. 50) and Leiden (L, c. 50). This effort would lead to a more than 3.5 times global increase in digitised Greenlandic Sphagnum specimens.

5. Digitization of Dianthus collections

Participating institutions: HNHM, NHMW, NMP, RBGE, HUJI, RGBK, BGM

Dianthus (Caryophyllaceae) is one of the most diverse plant genera in Europe. It is distributed throughout Eurasia and Africa (approx. 500 taxa), with about 200 taxa occurring only in Europe. A checklist for the region was provided in the Euro+Med Plant Base by Marhold (2011). Historical materials from the 18th to 20th century are mostly located in European herbaria. To get a more representative picture of these Dianthus collections we propose to digize this genus in important herbaria such as Hungarian Natural History Museum (BP), National Museum Prague (PR) and Natural History Museum Vienna (W) and other herbaria participating in the joint herbarium management JACQ. Dianthus is a very complex genus, with highly polymorphic groups and high intraspecific diversity and a complex record of several thousand names. 

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