TITLE: Digitization TCN: Collaborative Research: Lepidoptera of North America Network: Documenting Diversity in the Largest Clade of Herbivores.

Norman Johnson (Subcontract)

Star Date: July 1, 2016
End Date: June 30, 2020 (Estimated)

ABSTRACT: Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) are one of the most diverse groups of organisms on the planet: worldwide there are approximately 160,000 species, including around 14,300 species in North America. Moths and butterflies are a conspicuous component of terrestrial habitats and one of the most diverse groups of plant-feeding animals worldwide. This group insect includes species of great economic importance. Their juveniles feed on plants useful to humans, including grains, cotton, tobacco, and timber and shade trees. However, many of the adults are beneficial as pollinators and are icons of conservation as evidenced by Monarch butterflies. Given their economic importance and sheer beauty, butterflies and moths are one of the most abundant insect group in museum collections, but only a fraction of the approximately 15 million specimens in non-federal collections have had their specimen label information digitally recorded and accessible to researchers and educators. Of those specimens that have been digitized, fewer than 10% of the North American Lepidoptera species have sufficient, accessible occurrence data to make reliable predictions about habitat use, susceptibility to global change impacts, or other ecologically important interactions. This project will digitize and integrate existing, unconnected collections of lepidopterans to leverage the outstanding potential of this group of organisms for transformative research, training and outreach.

The Lepidoptera of North America Network (LepNet) comprises 26 research collections that will digitize approximately 2 million specimen records and integrate these with over 1 million existing records. LepNet will digitize 43,280 larval vial records with host plant data, making this the first significant digitization of larvae in North American collections. LepNet will produce ca. 82,000 high-quality images of exemplar species covering 60% of North American lepidopteran species. These images will enhance remote identifications and facilitate systematic, ecological, and global change research. In collaboration with Visipedia, LepNet will create LepSnap, a computer vision tool that can provide automated identifications to the species level. Museum volunteers and student researchers equipped with smartphones will image >132,000 additional research-quality images through LepSnap. Up to 5,000 lepidopteran species will be elevated to a “research ready” status suitable for complex, data-driven analyses. LepNet will build on the existing data portal (SCAN) in consolidating data on Lepidoptera to the evolution of lepidopteran herbivores in North America. Access to these data will be increased through integration with iDigBio. Data for a broad range of research, including the evolutionary ecology of Lepidoptera and their host plants in the context of global change processes affecting biogeographic distributions will be generated. The LepXPLOR! program will spearhead education and outreach efforts for 67 existing programs, engaging a diverse, nationwide workforce of 400+ students and 3,500+ volunteers. Overall, LepNet will generate a sustainable social-research network dedicated to the creation and maintenance of a digital collection of North American Lepidoptera specimens (http://www.lep-net.org/).

Our goal for the LepNet project is to database over 54,000 butterfly specimens from the Triplehorn Insect Collection holdings.