As part of Citizen Science Month 2023, we’re sharing excerpts from ‘Into the Zooniverse’, a series of books celebrating the projects and people of the Zooniverse.

You can find and download all editions of ‘Into the Zooniverse’ here.

Unfolding of Microplant Mysteries

GLOBALLY, THOUSANDS OF institutions house nearly three billion scientific collections. For herbaria (dried plant collections) alone, researchers have collected over 350 million specimens. The Unfolding of MicroPlant Mysteries project was initiated and designed by two high school interns at the Field Museum in Chicago to classify and identify morphological features such as branching patterns and sexual phenotypes. Despite their small size, MicroPlants are vital to our understanding of the evolutionary history of plants, and are of great ecological and environmental significance. According to genetic research, they are the earliest diverging lineages of all extant land plants. Thus, Microplants help shed light on how plants migrated from aquatic to land environments. In 2022, the Microplants team published an article (Pivarski et al. 2022) celebrating the intergenerational model of public engagement and research driving this project. The project team included high school interns building the Zooniverse project alongside Field Museum researchers, thousands of Zooniverse participants classifying in the online project alongside K-12 students and museum guests engaging with the Field Museum’s touchscreen kiosk version of the Microplants project within their exhibit spaces, and high school, undergraduate, masters students, and senior scientists carrying out the data processing, analysis, and dissemination of results. 

Image credit: Microplants Team, the Field Museum

Summary by: Laura Trouille

Check out this project: here

View the full ‘Into the Zooniverse’ book: here