Thursday, August 06, 2015

Humbling, yet Enthralling

This summer has been spent doing more computer work than fieldwork, in regards to Odonata.  Yes, I would love to be able to go out in the field all summer and play.  Because, while it sometimes is hard work, it's really play.  The work at the computer is important in terms of what the final result will be.  First of all, I thank Darrin O'Brien for his diligence and hard work in geo-referencing over 28,000 records in the MOS database.  Plotting each record on a map is going to tell us quite a bit more than just a shaded-in county for a species' occurrence.  Imagine the map for Ischnura verticalis!
As I was bringing in the data for the coordinates to the MOS database, I suddenly realized that we were having a wee problem. Eighty-five records should have 85 corrections, not 87.  Hmm.  I then realized we had some duplicate numbers in the database.  A duplicates search in Filemaker brought up several hundred pairs of duplicate numbers. I printed out the records, and then found the problems that created the duplicates.  A few were exact duplicates, where  everything was the same.  Those were easily eliminated. A smaller number were errors I had made in assigning numbers to different sets of incoming specimens.  I was able to find the specimens and give one set new (bar-coded) numbers.  The last remaining ones required more sleuthing, and some of those records were entered in 1997!  Transposed numbers and operator errors accounted for most of the problems.  I finally eliminated all duplicates a couple of days ago.  We still have over 28,000 records in the database, and in searching through the collection, I gained some insight into what the "old-timers" did and an appreciation for our fantastic collection.  It was actually a little humbling to see all the places that some people collected, and how many of those same sites I had visited over the past 30 years.  It also pointed out how a well-maintained collection makes the work easier.  Most of our older material is housed in paper triangles.  Anything added within the past 20 years or so is inside clear 3x5 inch mylar or polypropylene envelopes, backed with a card that contains the collecting event information.

The cards are easy to sort through, but the paper triangles are something like playing a physical game of Tetris as they have to be placed in the unit trays in a way that conserves space.    When I look at the specimens, they are a tangible link to the past, not only those that preceded me, but my own as well.

In addition to this, I have had two students cataloging the North American specimens in our collection.  At this point, they have captured data for over 20,000 Anisoptera, and have yet to finish the Gomphidae.  Then, I will start them on the damselflies.  That will probably be another 25,000 records.  In total, including the UMMZ-MOS specimens, that should be around 75,000 specimens from only North America.  It's a pretty damn good collection, and someday we will catalog the other specimens, which should add up to another 100,000.

So, I have been dealing a lot with data this summer, and while I am not out in the field that much, I am gaining more insight into the fauna that we have, and the remarkable collection that we house here at the Museum of Zoology.    If I have one piece of wisdom to impart from all this, it is: Use bar codes!  It makes daata-entry faster, easier, and you avoid the problems that I encountered with the duplicates.  The database is set-up to avoid dupes as we enter the data, but it does not do so when we import a bunch of records.  Lesson to be learned.  Click on the box that enables that check.

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