Natural history collections contain a wealth of information on the diversity, distribution and ecology of various species; however, much of this valuable information is effectively lost to researchers due to historical and practical constraints: most of this data is only available on non-digitized labels and in journal notes.
The loss of such extensive data is particularly regrettable because some of the records include information on vector-borne disease species, including various types of mosquitoes, which are responsible for more than 17% of infectious diseases. all over the world. In addition, as climate change alters temperatures and weather patterns around the world, invasive species are spreading to new areas, with the expectation that the risk of diseases carried by vector will increase even more.
It is estimated that by 2050, disease-carrying mosquitoes will eventually reach 500 million more people than today. To address this critical data loss, a team of researchers at the Naturalis Biodiversity Center has painstakingly organized and digitized information from the handwritten notebooks of Dutch entomologist Johanna Bonne-Wepster (1892 -1978), which opens up previously inaccessible information and makes it readily available to researchers and citizen scientists around the world.
The article was published in the journal GigaByte.
Bonne-Wepster plays an important role in Dutch tropical medicine. Her career spanned from 1917 to 1961, during which she and her husband conducted research in the former Dutch colonies of Indonesia and Suriname. Bonne-Wepster, one of the many historical, informally trained women who, like these data, disappeared from history, collected tens of thousands of mosquitoes, and trained herself to identify their species.
His thorough investigation, which provides detailed physical descriptions of this blood-sucking family of insects, is aimed at providing non-taxonomists with a way to identify the various vector species.
Bibiche Berkholst from Naturalis commented on the collection: “Bonne-Wepster collected and documented a large number of mosquitoes in his lifetime. We managed to digitize more than 10,000 of them, which took many months . Each mosquito should be checked against Bonne -Wepster’s field books, and many specimens lack locality and/or species labels, which should also be added.”
“It is very satisfying that this important collection has been digitized, and I hope that Bonne-Wepster’s extraordinary history will inspire many female amateur entomologists like myself.”
During the twenties and thirties Bonne-Wepster collected most of his heritage collections. After his return to The Netherlands in 1948, Bonne-Wepster continued to research mosquitoes especially at the University of Amsterdam. Although he was not academically trained, his great contribution to the field of mosquito taxonomy ultimately went unnoticed as he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the university in 1951.
In the 1970s, his collection was transferred to the Rijksmuseum van Natuurlijke Historie (RMNH) in Leiden, now known as Naturalis. Initially, the museum acquired only sample specimens, not the field books with detailed fieldnotes. The field books were thought to be lost until an RMNH curator visited the elderly Mrs. Bonne-Wepster and got it.
Efforts are being made to digitize these original field books, mobilize the data contained in them, and strengthen them with associated specimens. For the first time, these archival texts and 52,102 of his mosquito records have been released into the public domain through the Naturalis and GBIF (Global Biodiversity Information Facility) repositories, making them fully available to researchers and scientists around the world.
In addition to the previously inaccessible Bonne-Wepster data, the researchers also digitized detailed information from a smaller amount of data from the collections available at the Zoölogisch Museum Amsterdam Nederland (1,216 mosquitoes) and the former RMNH (another 2,388 mosquitoes).
The data available through this project is extremely valuable because it describes historical and recent records of mosquitoes, and can be used in different areas of research, including estimates of spatial distribution. distribution, modeling current and future distributions through Ecological Niche Modeling, and for developing much needed vector control programs.
It further emphasizes the importance of finding, digitizing, and organizing data from many unavailable and highly valuable historical documents so that they can add information that is available today, form historical bases, and will further extend the study of trends in the spread of human and animal disease vectors. This type of work can have a major impact on current public health issues as well as historical interest.
First author Pasquale Ciliberti says about the data: “I would really like if the data we unlocked could contribute, even in a small form, to understanding the ecology of mosquitoes. It would be a nightmare if the information kept in field books would have been lost. I am very happy that this information is available on the internet and available to researchers. Also I am happy that we appreciate the work of a woman in Science. She is officially an ‘amateur’. He shows that with love and commitment you can achieve a lot.”
Pasquale Ciliberti et al, Digitization of the Culicidae collection of the Naturalis Biodiversity Center, with special attention to the former Bonne-Wepster subcollection, Gigabytes (2023). DOI: 10.46471/gigabyte.85
Citation: Field records of an early 20th century female public health pioneer converted into 21st century data (2023, July 18) retrieved 19 July 2023 from https:/ /phys.org/news/2023-07-field-early-20th-century-female-health.html
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