26 March 2015

Hard at work behind the scenes

Believe it or not, work is proceeding slowly on the Michigan Odonata Atlas.

The emphasis is on slowly. Two major events (at least!) came into play since our inception of the Atlas project that have consumed much time and energy. First, 5 million wet specimens from the University of Michigan's Museum of Zoology have been moved from the campus Ruthven Museums Building to a new off-campus facility. The UMMZ is now preparing to have the rest of the collections moved and housed in the same facility. This is a monumental undertaking, and as the collections manager of the Insect Division, you can bet Mark has been busier than a one-legged man in a butt-kicking contest. Nonetheless, he has been cataloging incoming new Michigan Odonata specimens into the collection and database, complete with bar codes.

Meanwhile, funding for my position at the Rouge River Bird Observatory at the UM-Dearborn campus has been slashed, but my workload has not. In addition to attempting to keep that afloat, I have completed work on a review of 20 species of dragonflies and damselflies for the Michigan Threatened and Endangered Species Insect Technical Advisory Committee. My husband and partner in all things Odonate, Darrin O'Brien, did a ton of field work this summer and snagged a new dragonfly species for the state; our paper on this has been submitted for publication and we'll link to a blurb about it as soon as we can.

Darrin (who is no relation to Mark, to everyone's confusion) has also been hard at work geo-referencing all the Michigan specimen records in the MOS database. With 29,000 records dating back to the late 1800s, you can imagine that location data is...let's say "rich and varied." With the use of various mapping software, Darrin is assigning latitude and longitude for each voucher to more precisely reflect collecting sites. It is critical information and we believe it will make the MOS database and ultimately the Atlas one of the most accurate and complete compilations of its kind.

Let's look at these delays not as impediments, but an opportunities to continue to explore the state, collect vouchers, and learn more about Odonata distribution in Michigan.

The two unrelated O'Briens: Mark (standing) and Darrin (at the microscope)
in the Odonata range at the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology.