BestYear by 21%: There were 93,482 Virtual Museum records in 2018

The Virtual Museum had its BestYear ever in 2018, by a margin of 21%. The total for 2018 was 93,482 records. The totals for 2017 and 2016 were 75,408 and 73,104 respectively. That is a massive increase in 2018, conspicuously visible in the bar chart below.

Annual numbers of records submitted to the Virtual Museum.

In theory, it is easy to count. Subtract the counter for the number of records submitted to the Virtual Museum at the end of a year from the counter at the end of the following year. This is pretty close, but it does not give quite the right answer. This is because sometimes the photograph(s) for a record contain more than one species, and the record needs to be duplicated. Sometimes there are duplicate records which need to be removed. The table below gives the correct number of records in each section of the Virtual Museum which were uploaded during 2018, as at 5 January 2019. For the first time, this total exceeds 90,000 records! By a large margin.

Numbers of records for each section of the Virtual Museum in 2018. The total excludes VultureMAP, which is included within BirdPix.

From the table above, three sections of the Virtual Museum received more than 10,000 records: LepiMAP got 29,077, OdonataMAP 21,373 and BirdPix 19,525. Another eight got more than a 1,000.

The logo for LacewingMAP

But poor old LacewingMAP only got 678 records! And 2018 was its BestYear. Before you dismiss this as irrelevant, you need to grasp the context! Mervyn Mansell, who does the identifications for LacewingMAP, is ecstatic about this number. One of the things he achieved during his career as entomologist was to assemble a database containing the details of almost every specimen of a lacewing, collected in Africa, and curated in a museum anywhere in the world. That entire database contains 12,898 records, collected since 1900. (Gosh, that is only 44% of the number submitted to LepiMAP last year.) So the 678 records of 2018 added 5.3% to the specimen database. That is huge. The best decade of specimen collecting of lacewings for museums was in the 1980s, when on average 345 per year were collected. The 2018 total of 678 is almost double that. This is amazing. Proportionately, LacewingMAP is one of the best performing sections of the Virtual Museum. Now you can understand why Mervyn Mansell is so enthusiastic about the contributions made by citizen scientists to LacewingMAP.  You catch this enthusiasm from the tone of his comments in the caption to the photo  below!

This was one of the last lacewings to be uploaded to the Virtual Museum during 2018. The photo was taken on 31 December by Nigel Gericke and it was submitted that same evening to LacewingMAP by Sue Gie. It is on a farm in the Karoo near Montagu. Mervyn Mansell comments: “This species, Nemeura gracilis, is a Cape endemic, largely confined to the Western Cape, but also with a few records from the Eastern Cape. It is largely confined to mountainous areas, and is readily attracted to light. It has been recorded fairly close to Cape Town. Nothing is known about its biology. This family of lacewings (Nemopteridae) is well represented in the south western parts of South Africa, but very few species occur beyond the Eastern, Western and Northern Cape Provinces, where more than 65% of the world’s known species occur.” Wow! It is also the first record ever of a lacewing from quarter degree grid cell 3320CB, including a search of the specimen database! There are 52 records of Nemeura gracilis in the LacewingMAP database (i.e. 52 records in the world): 46 of them are specimen records, and this is the sixth photographic record in LacewingMAP. This record is curated at http://vmus.adu.org.za/?vm=LacewingMAP-15681.

Similar stories can be written about many of the sections of the Virtual Museum, including many of the ones with relative small numbers of records submitted annually. and we will explore them in future blog posts. Citizen scientists are making a decisive contribution to understanding the current distributions of species, and how these are changing. This is critical information for all conservation initiatives.

This is the first of several blog posts about the Virtual Museum in 2018. We have,  for example, asked members of the Expert Panels who do the identifications to tell us some of the records which impressed them the most in 2018. That is on its way. Enjoy.

Les Underhill
Les Underhill
Prof Les Underhill has been Director of the Animal Demography Unit (ADU) at the University of Cape Town since it started in 1991. Although citizen science in biology is Les’s passion, his academic background is in mathematical statistics. He was awarded his PhD in abstract multivariate analyses in 1973 at UCT and what he likes to say about his PhD is that he solved a problem that no one has ever had. He soon grasped that this was not the field to which he wanted to devote his life, so he retrained himself as an applied statistician, solving real-world problems.