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Peek into Plant Diversity using Herbarium Specimens (Online!)

Author(s): Katie Pearson1, Natalie Love2, Susan Mazer2

1. Cal Poly State University 2. University of California, Santa Barbara

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This exercise introduces herbarium specimens and how they are used for research. Students contribute to specimen "digitization" using the citizen science platform Notes from Nature, and they work with the California specimen database, CCH2.

Licensed under CC Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International according to these terms

Version 1.0 - published on 20 Aug 2020 doi:10.25334/YW7C-P170 - cite this


In this approximately 1 hour class exercise or assignment, students learn about herbarium specimens, how to interpret specimen label data, and what the label data may mean for our understanding of plant diversity. Students not only learn, but also contribute to specimen digitization using the online citizen science platform Notes from Nature ( A tutorial leads them through the information on herbarium specimens and how they can help input these data into appropriate database fields.

Students are also asked to think about the information on the label of their specimens and relate it to data they access on the database of specimens from California herbaria, CCH2 ( Students explore information about one of taxa for which they are transcribing information. As they continue to transcribe label data, they are asked to aggregate information about these specimens and relate them to broader spatial and temporal patterns of collecting and plant diversity.

This activity can be done entirely remotely or in person in a computer lab. It can be appropriate as an in-class assignment or homework assignment.

Learning Objectives

  • Use an online database to search and explore biodiversity specimen data
  • Interpret biodiversity information from historical specimen labels
  • Differentiate between types of data on specimen labels
  • Relate information on labels to broader patterns in specimen collection over time and space

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