How We Work

Tools for Conservation and Community Engagement

Large natural history collections hold crucial information for on-the-ground decision making in conservation. Collections are a powerful library of diversity, with information about the origin, distribution, and abundance of species around the world. Collections can point to regions of high conservation priority, where concentrations of range-restricted species already face threats of extinction. And, collections are the raw materials for identification of organisms, either directly or via illustrated field guides and subsequent training of field and conservation biologists.

Chicago Region Conservation Tools

Vplants is a virtual herbarium for the Chicago Region. This resource contains data for 80,000 plant and fungi specimens from three institutions with rich Chicago Region collections: The Field Museum, The Morton Arboretum, and the Chicago Botanic Garden.

The Keys to Nature Project provides a forum and toolset for scientists, partners, and volunteers to develop and share on-line, photo-based keys to any group of plants, animals, or fungi in the Chicago Region. Fourteen keys are now available, for regional milkweeds, shrubs, mussels, salamanders and newts, turtles, frogs and toads, and more. New keys—to regional orchids, goldenrods and damselflies—are in development.

Rapid Color Guides are free, photo-based, educational guides designed to help individuals quickly and accurately identify species in the natural world.  Rapid Color Guides are designed to fill gaps in published materials and often focus on specific geographic area, such as the Chicago Region.  They can be downloaded and laminated to create quick reference guides for the field.

Tropical Conservation Tools

Our current offerings are focused on tropical regions with a heavy emphasis on plants from the Neotropics. 

Rapid Color Guides are pages filled with color photos of identified plants or animals.  They are relatively easy to create, easy to produce, and easy to use.  The rapid color guides are not a substitute for good field guidebooks, but they are a way of learning to identify plants and animals quickly and cheaply.  They are most useful for learning the plants or animals of a specific area, or in a specific taxonomic group.  To date our program has produced more than 275 rapid color guides.

Live Plant Photographs. We know few other curated collections of tropical plant images. We provide this resource as a way to review many images of different families and genera.  In this way one gradually learns distinctive groups, especially if combined with other information obtained from books, herbarium work, or field observations. This resource is linked to our herbarium specimen page. 

Neotropical Herbarium Specimens. Identifying specimens can be a time-consuming process, especially  you have many general collections and/or sterile specimens from ecological plots. Before beginning the arduous search for identifications in an herbarium, it can be helpful to eliminate some possibilities by reviewing scanned specimens online.  Our scanned specimens from the Neotropics, while not complete, allow one to quickly compare many of the common species, and get ideas for species identification. Our ultimate goal is to provide an index of the entire Neotropical flora, with representative specimens for each species. 

Our goal is to continually improve our online identification offerings, and we welcome suggestions and identifications. 

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Tools for Community Engagement and Cultural Understanding

Photo: Hannah Porst

The Science Action Center's anthropologists create tools to help organizations work with their communities to define what “environment” means in their local context, identify environmental assets, and jump start environmental action that benefits people and nature. Our tools draw on Field Museum resources and have a special focus on identifying diverse cultural heritage traditions related to nature and sustainability.

Many of our tools are available on the website, Go Green @ Your Illinois Library. While the tools on this site have been tailored specifically to libraries, they can be used by any organization interested in creating environmental projects or action plans based on their community’s strengths and interests.

Grab This Fish Tale is a comic book based on ethnographic research about angling and fish consumption practices that are healthy and good for the enviornment!  (Spanish version: De boca en boca: la pesca y la salud)