Campus News Archives

UT Martin contributes to international biological database

07 - 31 - 2017

Contact: Erin Chesnut


MARTIN, Tenn. — The University of Tennessee at Martin is one of Tennessee’s nine current members of the Southeastern Regional Network of Expertise and Collections, which is working to digitize collected plant samples from across the Southeastern region for domestic and international research purposes.

By participating in this network, specimens found in UT Martin’s herbarium – a collection of preserved plant samples for scientific study – will be added to an online database that includes specimens from across the United States and other countries such as China and Great Britain.

The UT Martin herbarium includes 4,000-5,000 samples dating back at least to 1963 and perhaps farther. Dr. Lisa Krueger, UT Martin associate professor of biology, and several student and faculty volunteers will spend the next two to three weeks barcoding, imaging and entering each individual specimen into the database so that scientists around the world will have access to information previously only housed in Brehm Hall.

“We’ve got all these musea all around the country, most of them associated with universities, and the data are (inaccessible). If we can create national and international databases of biological specimens – the millions of biological specimens that have been collected since the time Europeans first started exploring North America – then we’ve got huge data sets,” said Dr. Joey Shaw, professor of biology at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and leader of SERNEC’s Tennessee branch.

Shaw estimates there are 850,000 collected specimens from Tennessee housed in Tennessee herbaria, which does not count Tennessee specimens potentially housed in outside herbaria such as those at Harvard or Yale Universities. With an estimated 3,000 plant species living in Tennessee, this creates a large amount of potential information about each species.

“Before we started this project, very few of the specimens out of those 850,000 were accessible unless you physically went to the place where they were held,” said Dr. Ashley Morris, associate professor of biology at Middle Tennessee State University, which is also a SERNEC member. “This is huge not just from the perspective of big-picture science questions, but from the perspective of botanists in Tennessee and the Southeastern United States who may just be trying to monitor rare species. … They’ll be able to go online and see what other records there are. It will be a more up-to-date assessment of what we do and don’t know about our flora.”

The regional project is funded by a National Science Foundation – Advancing Digitization of Biodiversity Collections grant. The Southeastern Regional Network of Expertise and Collections originally began with more than 200 collections in 12 states and has grown since the project’s beginning.

For more information on this digitization project, contact Krueger at 731-881-3171 or



(top) Kaleigh Grady (left), of Pinson, and Elizabeth Longwell (center), of Centerville, both UT Martin students, watch as Alaina Krakowiak, a student from UT Chattanooga, demonstrates how to barcode and sort individual specimens from the UT Martin herbarium collection.

(middle) An example of a specimen found in the UT Martin herbarium. Each specimen sheet gives information on the plant species, date and location of collection, and details on the flowers or seeds found with each plant.

(bottom) Dr. Lisa Krueger, associate professor of biology, and student Elizabeth Longwell (center), of Centerville, work to photograph herbarium specimens using lightbox equipment.

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