New Article in Nature: Museums, the Endangered Dead

Fri, 02/20/2015 - 11:41am -- maphillips
Release Date: 
Friday, February 20, 2015


Photo courtesy of Florida Museum of Natural History

Nature, an international weekly journal of science, posted Christopher Kemp's article Museums: the endangered dead on February 18, 2015.

The article begins with an example of a new species described from collections-based research. The example given in this article was a new species of bat (Myotis diminutus) but many more examples of new species discovered within collections have been in the news recently. The article goes on to stress the importance of collections for discovering and describing new species.

"In fact, researchers today find many more novel animals and plants by sifting through decades-old specimens than they do by surveying tropical forests and remote landscapes. An estimated three-quarters of newly named mammal species are already part of a natural-history collection at the time they are identified. They sometimes sit unrecognized for a century or longer, hidden in drawers, half-forgotten in jars, misidentified, unlabelled."

Collections are becoming increasingly more valuable because of new research and data management techniques like DNA sequencing, digitization, and data aggregation. However, just as we are discovering new and exciting ways to use collections -- collections are falling into decline.

This article summarizes the challenges and threats that modern collections are facing around the world. These threats include collections losing their funding and staffing which often results in specimens getting neglected, damaged, or even lost.The take home message is that collections are invaluable and irreplaceable resources:

“If you want to go back and do a survey of the mammals of Kuala Lumpur or something 30 years or 40 years ago, you can't go back, you have to go to the collections to do it.”

Read the article to learn more about the challenges collections are facing around the world, the issue of "taxonomic impediment," and new uses for collections on the horizon.