Have you ever wanted to contribute to the body of scientific knowledge for the benefit of all people?
Sounds like a lofty pursuit, but community science projects are designed so nonscientists can meaningfully contribute to scientific research. The Academy’s Ornithology Department is launching one involving parasites.
A parasite is an organism that lives in or on another species (called a host) and benefits by deriving nutrients at the other’s expense.
Parasites may sound like villains—and indeed they often transmit diseases to humans and other animals—but they play vital roles in human health, wildlife biology and agriculture. For most parasites, however, scientists are still building a more accurate picture of where and how they live, where they have lived, and how they associate with their hosts and vice versa.
The Ornithology Department maintains minus-80-degree-Celsius freezers stocked with one of the largest frozen louse collections in the world. Ornithology Curator Jason Weckstein, PhD, estimates it to be the largest or second largest of its kind, and the lice are used in a variety of DNA studies involving birds as louse hosts. Weckstein is also running a project to digitize a large collection of lice mounted on slides that is on long term loan from The Field Museum in Chicago.
Museum specimens in vials, on pins and on microscope slides play a fundamental role in understanding parasite biology, host associations and both geographic and temporal distributions. Images of these specimens and their associated digitized data need to be made readily accessible online to scientists, educators, wildlife managers, and policymakers worldwide so research can be shared.
The Terrestrial Parasite Tracker project, funded by the National Science Foundation, will mobilize data and images from more than 1.3 million arthropod ectoparasite specimens (lice, mites, ticks, mosquitoes and fleas) from 27 separate research collections across the United States, including the Academy’s. This is where you come in.
We’re looking for community scientists to help us digitize data from our slide-mounted parasitic louse specimens.
We are using the platform Notes From Nature to conduct a digitization “expedition” where anyone, anywhere can go online and help us transcribe label data from scanned collections of parasite specimens mounted on microscope slides.
If you are interested in helping with this important project, visit the Terrestrial Parasite Tracker project on the Notes from Nature website. The Ornithology Department’s “expedition” is titled “Have Host, Will Fly.”
We appreciate your help!
By John Gausas, PhD, TPT Technician in the Academy’s Ornithology Department, with Carolyn Belardo. Images by John Gausas
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