Dear ECN'ers,

I want to start my defense of BugGuide with a slight push back against some
of the comments in Ferro and Flick's (2015) seminal paper on "collection
bias" and other far reaching topics. (Links to their paper are at the end
of my email.)

Their abstract states that BugGuide "performed poorly" based on the metric
of the distribution of the 14 Thoracophorus costalis (Staphylinidae)
BugGuide records in relation to their reference model of over 4,900 records
of the species borrowed from 38 North American insect collections.

Yes, the 14 BG records only partially mimicked the e. U.S. distribution of
the staphylinid in question, but to its credit, BG actually outperformed
the majority of the collections consulted. I would further point out that
BG ranked in the middle of the "second tier" of collections just ahead of
both OSUC and TAMU but behind the top tier of "mega N. Amer. collections"
such as CNC, MCZ, FMNH, FSCA and INHS.

Indeed, BG had one of the best rankings in terms of its relative low number
of specimens (14) but high ranking on the percent model area scale (Table

I suspect some of the reasons BG performed so well was probably due the
fairly even, widespread distribution of its many active contributors.

*Google Distribution Map of Top BugGuide Contributors & Top 10 States for
Photo Submissions*
RED - Current locations of BugGuide contributors who have submitted 5,000
or more photographs
BLUE - Top 10 states with the most contributed photograph

*BugGuide Users*

   - *Contributors: 31616* (counts anyone who has ever submitted content or
   - Editors: 224
   - Experts: 134
   - Total: 31974
   - *Active: 1023 (within the past 7 days)*

Link to BG user source data (takes more than a few moments to calculate):

Most mid-sized and certainly smaller collections have a fairly significant
regional geographic bias which is less of a factor with BG data, though the
Rocky Mountain states and western Canada and Alaska are less well surveyed
than the rest of the U.S..

It should also be acknowledged that BG is not quite 13 years old, so for BG
to perform just below the mega collections is, I think, particularly

To be absolutely clear, I am in no way implying that BugGuide is better
than physical collections. The gold standard building block of
entomological science is, and likely forever will be, a bug on a pin (or
other appropriate storage method).

Personally, I look for ways that BG can serve to cross-pollinate with
insect collections. In that vein, I am one of the top contributors to BG
and have donated almost every single insect that I photographed  (save for
some butterflies) to the Texas A&M Insect Collection or to other
collections. Significantly, I have also added some amount of taxonomic,
identification, distribution, and host information to nearly every single
BG species Info page that I contributed photos to.

*Over 5,000 insects (mostly beetles) that I photographed over the last 7
yrs from, or donated to, TAMU.*

In this win-win situation, A&M is happy to receive my spmns, I'm happy to
have them curated in perpetuity to a very high standard, and the
entomological and naturalist communities benefit from having access to both
specimens, photographs and associated entomological data of many taxa. Each
summer, the contributions to BugGuide continue to grow.

*BugGuide Usage Statistics: Images Submitted / Month / Year, Users / Month,
Page Views / Month, and Hits / Month*

(The first graph suggests we might have hit "Peak BugGuide" in 2014 given
that the 2015 photo submission numbers were lower, but 2016 is on track to
exceed the 2014 submissions.)

Taken together, the above data attests to the fact that BugGuide has a
strong "bottom-up" component as well as a very healthy group of active
experts overseeing identifications and other aspects. I suspect that the
large number of active users and photos, distribution maps, linked
references, and associated biological information all serve to contribute
to BugGuide's high ranking in North American taxonomic searches, e.g.

*Google search for Thoracophorus costalis*

One other "collection bias" Ferro and Flick (2015) discuss in addition to
geographic bias is taxonomic bias in terms of different collections having
different taxonomic strengths and weaknesses. BugGuide has fairly strong
coverage of the most diverse orders with greater representation than the
relative diversity of large insects such as walkingsticks, mantids, and
roaches. Some orders of small insects, such as thrips and fleas, are
underrepresented, but it should be emphasized that BugGuide performed well,
depending on one's perspective, in terms of the the small brown staphylinid
featured in Ferro and Flick (2015) which is only 2-3 mm in length.

*Orders with more than 1,000 Images*
Lepidoptera 268883
Coleoptera 183045
Diptera 140142
Hymenoptera 132056
Hemiptera (sl) 92293
Orthoptera 37077
Odonata 32077
Neuroptera 6117
Trichoptera 5299
Ephemeroptera 4528
Psocodea 3435
Plecoptera 3206
Mantodea 3058
Blattodea 2822
Megaloptera 1525
Phasmida 1253
Mecoptera 1150

Beyond all BugGuide's impressive distribution, usage, and diversity
statistics, BG thumbnail photos can also be used in another important way.
I may be the only person doing this, but BG thumbnail photos can be simply
cut-and-pasted into a WYSIWYG HTML editor. (WYSIWYG = What You See Is What
You Get.) This allows for a powerful display of select taxa and specific
images. Displaying images in this way can create a tremendous teaching
tool, both for the general public and for the professional entomologist
outside of their area of expertise.

Say you live in Oklahoma (or nearby) and you found a strange beetle, but
you don't know anything in terms of coleopteran taxonomy which would
facilitate narrowing down the options to determine what the beetle might
be. The vast majority of the general public probably only vaguely
recognizes a few beetle groups such as some scarabs, ladybugs, fireflies
(when flashing), longhorn beetles and weevils. Even experienced naturalists
can probably only recognize a few more families, but relatively few beetles
to the species level.

So here I've constructed a unique page with representative photographs of
over 1,200 beetle species, somewhere around a third of the known and a
fifth of the projected number of beetles for Oklahoma. To my knowledge,
it's never been possible before to see such a large percentage of a state's
beetles so easily. The thumbnail photos are 3 cm square (at least on my
browser) so most of the beetles are already being viewed at 1 to 8 x
magnification without clicking on the thumbnail to enlarge the image

*Oklahoma Beetle Biota *

This compilation of photographs is from surveys I, and others, conducted in
and around Oklahoma. It's backed up, and augmented by, two important
Oklahoma beetle lists. One is an annotated list from the Oklahoma State
University, which has the largest entomological collection in the state.
The second list was compiled from material collected by Karl H. Stephan,
one of North America's greatest beetle collectors.

*Checklist  of the Coleoptera of Oklahoma - K.C. Emerson Entomology Museum
(OSEC) Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology, Oklahoma State
University, Stillwater, OK*

*List of Coleoptera Collected in Latimer County, Oklahoma by Karl Heinz
Stephan (2002)*

(OSU provides similar annotated state lists for most insect orders and even
for spiders. I'm not aware of any other state providing similar lists for
so many orders.)

In summary, I want to recap and add to some of the points above, but also
be self critical and acknowledge some of the shortcomings of BugGuide at

*Strengths of BugGuide:*

Was only started in 2004 and already has over a million photographs.
Extremely high usage statistics, e.g. unique visitors, page views and hits
per month:
Each record is tied directly to a photograph vs. most other aggregator
Can easily search data by any combination of taxonomic rank, state, county
and/or month.
Photo contributors are fairly dispersed across populated areas of N. Amer.
which cuts down on "collection bias" in terms of geography.
Photo contributors are generally interested in a wide range of taxonomic
groups which cuts down on "collection bias" in terms of taxonomic emphasis.
Photo contributors are generally available via email for follow up queries.
Taxonomy may be more current than in a physical collection and easier to
keep in alphabetical order.
Can accommodate records (photographs) of large sized insects such as
saturniid moths with the same ease as accommodating photos of the smallest
Accessible 24/7 by multiple users worldwide simultaneously, even from
handheld devices while out in the field (unless in very remote location).
Thumbnails can be cut-and-pasted directly into a WYSIWYG HTML editor, e.g.
If well cropped, the 3 cm sq. thumbnail photo is often sufficiently large
to ID most insects, most of which are less than 1 cm long.
In addition to a photo and taxon, BugGuide often has more supplemental
information than most other aggregator sites, e.g. vs:
Photos and associated data are supplied by volunteers so cost is much less
than other aggregator sites, (though BG could use more funding to update
their software).
Bright colors and natural positions of photographed arthropods can be
aesthetically pleasing.

*Shortcoming of BugGuide:*
As there are so many "cooks" (in terms of contributors and editors), the
"broth" can come out a bit muddled...
Often the arthropod isn't collected after being photographed, but
personally, I collect nearly everything I shoot, e.g.
Photographs can be of mixed quality (not that every museum spmn is an
intact a thing of beauty!).
Many insects need to be dissected to be ID'ed to the species level, though
this problem exists for yet-to-be dissected museum spmns as well.
BG doesn't accept collection dates prior to Jan. 1, 1970 without a
workaround (this is a personal pet peeve of mine).
Range limited to N. Amer., north of Mexico, but many collections,
particularly smaller ones, are also similarly limited.
General lack of ventral or other non-dorsal views.
Finer morphological details, such as tarsal formulas, often not visible
except in the highest quality (stacked) photos.
Many of the dets are somewhat tentative, though not ever museum spmn has a
det label and not every det label is actually correct.
Mapping is at the state level instead of the county or point level, thought
the county is listed along with the more specific locality.
Can't extract DNA from a photo, though not every collection has an active
DNA extraction component.

*Michael L. Ferro and Andrew J. Flick. 2015*. “Collection Bias” and the
Importance of Natural History Collections in Species Habitat Modeling: A
Case Study Using Thoracophorus costalis Erichson (Coleoptera:
Staphylinidae: Osoriinae), with a Critique of The Coleopterists
Bulletin 69(3): 415-425. (*very*
slow to load)

*BugGuide Usage and System Statistics:*

Thanks for considering these points,

Mike Quinn, Austin
Texas Entomology

Related previous post to the ECN list:

On Wed, Oct 7, 2015 at 10:17 AM, Mike Ferro <[log in to unmask]>

> Recent research (Ferro and Flick 2015
> <>) made
> me think long and hard (perhaps too long and hard) about museums and the
> stuff that's in them. I wrote a long, rambling essay on the subject and
> have pasted it below. It's also available on my blog The eel of Science
> <>.
> Cheers,
> Mike
> *What is the Best "Collecting" Strategy for an Arthropod Museum?*
> A species consists of a population made up of individuals. Much
> information about a species can be found in one specimen (especially
> morphology). However, information about a population (=variation) requires
> many specimens that exhibit the ranges of morphological and genetic
> variation, distribution, phenology, etc.
> Considering that resources are limited, what's a curator to do? Maximize
> number of species for morphological vouchers, or maximize specimens of a
> particular species to create a robust representation of the population?
> *Short answer: *
> Do both! Get pretty much everything.
> *Long answer 1: *
> When trying to identify an unknown, even a single identified specimen can
> be incredibly helpful. Endeavors that benefit greatly from even a single
> specimen include classes, key creation, field guides, voucher collections
> (physical and photographic), checklists, etc. So maximizing species has
> benefits.
> Most arthropod collections have geographic and taxonomic strengths/biases
> (see this brilliant paper: Ferro and Flick 2015
> <>), that
> is, they are often dominated by local specimens. (How overlap between
> "museum range" and species range affects our understanding of a species'
> distribution is an interesting idea, but not for this essay.) Retaining a
> large number of specimens of local species may add greatly to the overall
> understanding of a species' population, after all, who else should be
> collecting these beasts? So maximizing specimens of species has benefits.
> Perhaps the best way to answer the question is to consider its inverse:
> What shouldn't a curator do? Which specimens are of the least value?
> (Generally speaking!) The specimen that carries the most morphological
> information is the singleton. Every other specimen of that species provides
> less and less morphological information, they only contribute information
> on variation. The specimens that provide the most population information
> are the outliers (geographic, temporal, etc.) because they help define
> extremes. Therefore, the specimens that carry the least information
> represent a species, life stage, time, AND place that is already
> represented by another specimen in the collection.
> Specimens of the same species collected at the same time and place are
> often called a "series", usually defined as 5, 10, or 20 individuals. A
> series is an important tool for the arthropod collection. It assures that
> plenty specimens are collected to account for breakage, individual
> variation, sexes, cryptic species, and abnormal abundance of rare species.
> But a series can go too far (this is less true for alcoholic preservation
> where 50 specimens may take up no more room than one). Maybe pointing 100+
> ptillids from a single litter sample, or 1000+ throscids from an emergence
> study is unnecessary (the author is guilty of both).
> Perhaps the best strategy for a collection manager is to maximize both:
> *1)* the number of species; AND *2)* specimens of a particular species,
> but work to keep redundancy of those specimens below a maximum threshold,
> and therefore not squander resources on "lower value" specimens.
> *Long Answer 2: *
> Not long ago museums had exclusive (more or less) resources such as museum
> workers, specimens, literature, etc. A user had to travel to the collection
> to use the resource. And, even though it seems obvious, the collection
> either had the resource or it didn't (getting the resource, even a paper,
> took time and money).
> Digitization of information (and all that that entails) has changed the
> landscape of cost and access to materials. For example, to peruse The
> Canadian Entomologist a reader no longer needs to travel to a museum or
> library—and to possess The Canadian Entomologist a collection no longer
> needs to have actual copies. It makes little sense to purchase Volume 1
> (1869) when it is available for free online. (I'm not saying don't expand
> your library, just make wise decisions.)
> For collections a "*resource spectrum*" has developed. One end consists
> of resources that are fully digitizeable and can be created, duplicated,
> and/or passed around with ease including specimen label data. The other end
> consists of those things which cannot be digitized: the smell of
> naphthalene, a rousing debate over lunch about whether termites are
> cockroaches, and above all, physical specimens.
> Digital "shadows" of specimens can be created, label data, photographs,
> DNA, etc., but an actual specimen cannot. The cost of obtaining specimens
> will almost certainly increase with time. Paperwork associated with
> obtaining, transporting, depositing, and holding a specimen has increased
> greatly. (These delusional handicaps placed on researchers and institutions
> are an important and too often overlooked cost/impediment to collections
> and research, but that's a topic for a different essay.) The point is, from
> the standpoint of a multigenerational collection, now is probably the best
> (cheapest) time to obtain specimens (and other non-digitizeable resources).
> As was mentioned above, even a single specimen provides a lot of
> information about a species. Additionally, a collection either has a
> specimen, or it doesn't. Borrowing a specimen from another institution
> costs time and money. (Enormous amounts compared the first edition of The
> Canadian Entomologist. Cost to download the first edition of The Canadian
> Entomologist = $0.00. Cost to mail a package = $10.00. Therefore mailing a
> specimen is infinity percent more costly than downloading a free paper.
> That's just math.)
> In this scenario, increasing species diversity is the best strategy for
> small or extremely resource-limited collections. Population level
> information, such as distribution, phenology, etc. can be supplemented
> through other online specimen-level databases (but beware! see paper cited
> above).
> *My overall proposal is that museums should ACTIVELY work to increase
> their taxonomic holdings AND actively work to help increase the taxonomic
> holdings of other museums.*
> Now is the cheapest time (cost will only increase in the future), and
> actual specimens have clearly emerged as the highest "value" artifacts in a
> collection (because they are non-digitizeable). It is not inappropriate to
> imagine a future where all midsized and larger museums have one or more
> representatives of every order or family of insect, arachnid, etc. known on
> the continent, or even representatives of every genus (or species of the
> smaller orders: the 13 smallest orders in NA north of Mexico have a total
> of 511 spp. Five specimens of each species = 2,555 specimens, or 0.2555% of
> a million specimen collection.)
> Something to mull over…
> --
> Michael L. Ferro
> Collection Manager, Clemson University Arthropod Collection
> Dept. of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences
> MAIL: 277 Poole Agricultural Center
> OFFICE: 307 Long Hall
> Clemson University, Clemson, SC 29634-0310
> [log in to unmask] (preferred)
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