Dr. Andrea Weeks leads new statewide plant life database project

Posted: October 24, 2014 at 6:13 pm, Last Updated: October 24, 2014 at 6:14 pm

George Mason University is leading a statewide National Science Foundation-funded project to catalog and digitize dried plant specimens and upload the information into a database. The project will chronicle how plant life in Virginia has evolved, and it could discover some new species along the way.

Herbaria from the entire southeastern United States is part of the $2.5 million project called “The Key to the Cabinets: Building and Sustaining a Research Database for a Global Biodiversity Hotspot.” Mason is receiving funds for the Virginia-based portion of the project, which will include digitizing approximately 350,000 specimens from Mason’s herbarium and others across the commonwealth. In total, the project will database around 3.4 million records of plant life from the southeastern United States collected over the past two centuries.

Dr. Andrea Weeks, a Mason botany professor in the Department of Biology and Mason’s herbarium director, plans to hire about 10 students early next year to start turning sheets of paper containing dried plants into high-resolution digital images using a special camera. Some surprises could be found in the process because many specimens date to the early 1900s and haven’t seen the light of day in possibly decades. Even Weeks doesn’t know exactly how many plants are in the herbarium and she’s eager to find out.

Some 60,000 dried plants are housed in huge metal cabinets in the Ted R. Bradley Herbarium, located  in the basement of Exploratory Hall. The plants are preserved to last hundreds of years on special archival paper. Weeks has seen dried plant specimens collected by Charles Darwin in other herbaria.

Read the full article (which is currently featured on the Mason homepage) from the Mason NewsDesk on 10/24/2014…