The herbarium collection is currently in the process of digitizing approximately 220,000 specimens sponsored by a NSF grant. This is part of a joint outreach initiative to provide additional resources to visiting botanists, non-profit organizations, and state officials. There are already detailed data online for 90,000 specimens, which are now complemented by high-resolution imagery. The continued digitization of the botanical collection at the University of Alaska Museum of the North will drastically improve accessibility to the botantical heritage of the arctic and boreal biome in Alaska to a worldwide audience. In addition to the digital effort, ALA will be implenting cutting edge technology via optical character recognition (OCR). This software will be able to recognize the label information from the specimens and parse the data into the appropriate context, based on a teaching set. The software uses artificial intelligence to sort the data into the correctly formatted output, so that overtime the software will reach optimal output in accordance to our label designs. This will be continually updated in our Herbarium Arctos database. Access all of our specimens with digital images in Arctos and view our digitization procedures.
Sponsored by NSF BRC-0646482 and NSF REU Supplement NSF-0924605.
High Density Storage System
In the original NSF grant a purchase of 93 cabinets was budgeted. We were able to generate a substantial savings by purchasing double-door cabinets over the budgeted single-door cabinets and received an additional supplement to install a high density storage system, which eliminates the need for permanent aisles, thus allowing significantly more floor space to be committed to storage. In the case of newly available space for the Herbarium, this amounts to room for 39 additional cabinets, or 42 % more space. This will provide for fourteen years of continued collection growth, as compared to ten without the compactor storage. Installation of the mobile storage system concomitantly with the installation of the cabinets is the most cost and labor-effective way and we are very excited to watch progress of the current installation by Borroughs.
Sponsored by an NSF Supplement (NSF-0824267).
Diversification in Arctic Oxytropis:
The curator of the ALA Herbarium, Steffi Ickert-Bond, as well as Zachary Meyers a master’s candidate at the University of Alaska Fairbanks are currently investigating the genus Oxytropis, to study post-glacial dynamics in a landscape genetic context in Alaska. Oxytropis is a taxonomically complex and enigmatic genus, with an estimated 330 species worldwide, 30 of which occur throughout Alaska (Bobrov et al., 1972; Welsh, 2001). High levels of morphological plasticity, coupled with a lack of definitive taxonomic characters, have led to a plethora of synonyms from early 20th century botanists (reviewed in Welsh, 2001). A combination of morphological, in addition to novel molecular techniques are being applied to resolve the phylogenetic and phylogeographic questions. Understanding taxonomic relationships between species of Oxytropis and generating predictions of range extensions and/or contractions in conjunction with current climate models will be important for conservation decision by land managers.
Rose LaMesjerant, an undergraduate at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, investigated difference in seed micromorphology within Oxytropis species with the support of an Alaska EPSCoR undergraduate research fellowship. Oxytropis (loco-weed, Fabaceae) are typical members of the Arctic flora and include 20 species in Alaska occurring in a wide range of habitats (e.g. forest, meadow, tundra) with some species being narrow endemics. Botanists in Alaska have long noticed a high degree of morphological variation within well-established taxa. This has resulted in taxonomic controversy and species delimitation in Oxytropis is in need of further study. This project seeks to determine differences in surface features and anatomy of seeds of ca. 13 species of Oxytropis (loco-weed, Fabaceae) that occur in Alaska. The study is based on dry herbarium specimens from the University of Alaska Museum Herbarium (ALA). Observations made using scanning electron microscopy indicate that seed surface micromorphology is primarily rugulate, with either 1) tightly interwoven thin rugae, 2) thick rugae, or 3) thick raised primary and thin recessed secondary rugae. For anatomical studies, dry seeds were rehydrated in equal parts of glycerol, water and ethanol and then sectioned by hand. The seed coat in Oxytropis is well differentiated and exotestal with the outer integument providing the mechanical layer of the seed. A uniseriate epidermis is covered by a cuticle on upper anticlinal walls. The subepidermal layer is composed of single layer of prominent macrosclereids, followed by a single row of osteosclereids and 5-8 rows of compressed tangentially elongate parenchyma cells of the nucellus. The taxonomic utility of micromorphological and anatomical characters in Alaskan Oxytropis seeds is demonstrated. Rose presented the results at Botany 2008 in Vancouver, Canada.
Alaska Lichen Flora
Celia Miller, an honor student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, is working with lichenologists from Europe and within Alaska to develop a lichen checklist. Celia is also involved in a biogeographic study, investigating Ramalina dilacerata a lichen only found on the bark of trees. Lichens are one of the defining features of Alaskan plant communities. They are present in nearly every terrestrial ecosystem and are often dominant and fundamental to ecosystem structure and function. In many arctic and alpine communities, lichens are a significant component of the total biomass. Lichens have been widely used as indicators for old growth forest continuity and air quality. Recent studies demonstrate that shifts in lichen community composition signal climate change. As biodiversity and climate change becomes central in scientific research and management issues, lichen inventories are increasingly important. Currently there is no comprehensive list of the lichens of Alaska. When assessing what lichens occur in Alaska, researchers must consult dozens of papers published over the last 100 years or be familiar with collections of Alaskan lichens in various American and foreign institutions. Over the last 130 years, over 230 scientific publications have provided information on the diversity and ecology of Alaskan lichens.
Sayuri Ito, an undergraduate at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, is currently constructing an interactive key for arctic sedges. These plants often play a pivotal role in riparian habitats and are often difficult to differentiate. Using an interacitve key will allow novice botantists to further develop their skills and become proficient at identifying members of this morphologically highly reduced genus.