NSF Awards $3.6 Million Grant to Louisiana State University Among Others


Baton Rouge, Louisiana - LSU is part of a multi-million dollar grant to digitize and study bryophyte and lichen, two important species in cryptobiotic communities. Laura Lagomarsino, Director, Shirley C. Tucker Herbarium and Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences and colleagues from 25 institutions across the US received a $3.6 million grant from the National Science Foundation to image and digitize associated metadata for close to 1.2 million lichen and bryophyte specimens housed in their collections.

The project, Building a Global Consortium of Bryophytes and Lichens: Keystones of Cryptobiotic Communities (GLOBAL), will enable researchers from around the world to access specimen metadata and photos of the plants.

“Natural history collections are a physical record of our planet's biodiversity across space and time,” said Jessica Budke, lead principle investigator of the project and director of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Herbarium (TENN). “These specimens not only serve as records of the past, but they are a critical resource for our future. They help us to answer important questions surrounding invasive species, conservation biology, and help us to describe species that are new to science.”

Lichens and bryophytes are hosts to cryptobiotic communities that play a critical role in stabilizing soil, preventing erosion, absorbing rainfall, and providing nutrients for the growing plants around them. This hidden life creates a critical miniature forest that serves as an important habitat for tiny animals and forms a “living skin” found throughout the world, from canyon deserts to polar icecaps.

The LSU herbarium is, by far, the largest and most active plant collection in Louisiana and is the primary repository for newly collected specimens in the state. In particular, its collection of lichens (one of the key cryptobiotics targeted in this grant) is nationally significant, largely thanks to the work of LSU Boyd Professor Emerita Dr. Shirley C. Tucker and her collaborators.

“This grant will make the valuable cryptobiont collections housed at the LSU herbarium more accessible to the broader community, including researchers who are currently not able to visit their local herbaria during this era of remote work, and empower future research targeting an incredibly important, but understudied group of organisms.” Said Lagomarsino.

Researchers with the project will partner with Zooniverse, a citizen science web portal, to develop an online platform for citizen scientists to make observations on character traits that can improve the information and fill in some of the gaps not covered by the scientific labeling process.

These integrated data will form a critical resource for evolutionary and ecological studies that researchers hope lead to a deeper understanding of the role bryophytes and lichens play in carbon and nitrogen cycling, the evolution of biodiversity, and more.

In addition to collecting information about the specimen, undergraduate students at the partner institutions will have an opportunity to receive funding for professional training in image capture and processing, digitization, and collections management. Researchers will leverage local resources to promote underrepresented students in STEM fields and integrate a public outreach component to K-12 science classes and other science youth groups.

“This project represents a collaborative effort of 25 major research institutions,” Budke said. “It will push the field of organismal biology forward by leaps and bounds, enabling us to tackle large-scale biology questions that none of us could answer alone.”


Contact: Nicolette Ross
LSU Department of Biological Sciences


Partner Institutions

Academy of Natural Sciences
Arizona State University
Brigham Young University
Duke University
Louisiana State University
Miami University
Michigan State University
Missouri Botanical Garden
New York Botanical Garden
Ohio State University
Oregon State University
The Field Museum
University of Alaska
University of California, Berkeley
University of Cincinnati
University of Colorado
University of Florida
University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign/Illinois Natural History Survey
University of Michigan
University of Minnesota
University of Nebraska State Museum
University of Tennessee, Knoxville
University of Washington
University of Wisconsin
Yale University