Thursday, December 18, 2014

Linking data from the NHM portal with content in BHL

02932 580 360One reason I'm excited by the launch of the NHM data portal is that it opens up opportunities to link publications about specimens i the NHM to the record of the specimens themselves. For example, consider specimen 1977.3097, which is in the new portal as (possibly the ugliest URL ever).

1977 3097

This specimen is of the bat Pteralopex acrodonta, shown in the image to the right (by William N. Beckon, taken from the EOL page for this species). This species was described in the following paper:
Hill JE, Beckon WN (1978) A new species of Pteralopex Thomas, 1888 (Chiroptera: Pteropodidae) from the Fiji Islands. Bulletin of the British Museum (Natural History) Zoology 34(2): 65–82.
This paper is in my BioStor project, and if you visit BioStor you'll see see that BioStor has extracted a specimen code (BM(NH) 77.3097) and also has a map of localities extracted from the paper.

Looking at the paper we discover that BM(NH) 77.3097 is the type specimen of Pteralopex acrodonta:
HOLOTYPE. BM(NH) 77.3097. Adult . Ridge about 300 m NE of the Des Voeux Peak Radio Telephone Antenna Tower, Taveuni Island, Fiji Islands, 16° 50½' S, 179° 58' W, c. 3840ft (1170 m). Collected 3 May 1977 by W. N. Beckon, died 6-7 May 1977. Caught in mist net on ridge summit : bulldozed land with secondary scrubby growth, adjacent to primary forest. Original number 104. Skin and skull.
Note that the NHM data portal doesn't know that 1977.3097 is the holotype, nor does it have the latitude and longitude. Hence, if we can link 1977.3097 to BM(NH) 77.3097 we can augment the information in the NHM portal.

This specimen has also been cited in a subsequent paper:
Helgen, K. M. (2005, November). Systematics of the Pacific monkey‐faced bats (Chiroptera: Pteropodidae), with a new species of Pteralopex and a new Fijian genus . Systematics and Biodiversity. Informa UK Limited. doi:10.1017/s1477200005001702
You can read this paper in BioNames. In this paper Helgen creates a new genus, Mirimiri for Pteralopex acrodonta, and cites the holotype (as BMNH 1977.3097). Hence, if we could extract that specimen code from the text and link it to the NHM record we could have two citations for this specimen, and note that the taxon the specimen belongs to is also known as Mirimiri acrodonta.

Imagine being able to do this across the whole NHM data portal. The original description of this bat was published in a journal published by the NHM (and part of a volume contributed by the NHM to the Biodiversity Heritage Library). With a *cough* little work we could join up these two NHM digital resources (specimen and paper) to provide a more detailed view what we know about this specimen. From my perspective this cross-linking between the different digital assets of an institution such as the NHM (as well as linking to external data such as other publications, GenBank sequences, etc.) is where the real value of digitisation lies. It has the potential to be much more than simply moving paper catalogues and publications online.