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MSU to Digitize Butterfly, Moth Research Collections

Anthony Cognato, collection director of MSU's A.J. Cook Arthropod Research Collection, examining butterfly specimens.

Butterflies and moths are challenging and economically significant pests for growers. Because they are closely associated with the plants they feed on, they are also frequently used by scientists for evolutionary and ecological studies. On the flip side, they are also aesthetically pleasing and have captured the attention of many nature admirers throughout history.

With these impacts in mind, the National Science Foundation (NSF) is funding a $3.2 million effort to digitize millions of butterfly and moth specimens within the Lepidoptera of the North American Network. The grant was awarded to 27 US institutes including the A.J. Cook Arthropod Research Collection (ARC) in the Michigan State University (MSU) Department of Entomology.

“The information associated with each specimen is not readily available to researchers or the general public,” said Anthony Cognato, MSU AgBioResearch entomologist and professor in the Department of Entomology who leads the project at MSU. “Scientists need information about each specimen’s food plant, time of occurrence and location for their studies.”

According to Cognato, the project will not only help scientists better understand the environmental factors that affect pest moth populations but also provide the public with resources to enjoy the butterfly diversity in their backyards.

The grant will fund the digitization of at least 1.7 million specimen records, 213,000 research-quality images of species, and a computer identification tool for butterflies and moths. MSU’s contribution will include 125,000 specimen records and 10,000 images, many from Michigan. These efforts document the distribution of butterflies and moth through space and time and provide data to local, national and international researchers as well as the public.

The project began in July and thousands of records can already be found in the ARC’s database.

– Joy Landis via AgBioResearch website

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