Tuesday, 21 March 2017

working paper - North American Herbaria and their Tropical Plant collections: what exists, what is available, and what the future may bring.

Working Paper · January 2017

01/2017, Affiliation: Biologiske Skrifter, Version: final version, State: Forthcoming
Abstract Herbaria, and biological collections in general, provide an invaluable record of the diversity of plants and animals through time and space and are used in studies addressing climate change, tracking invasive species, niche modeling, and assembling the tree of life. They are our only direct documentation of biological diversity and therefore serve as essential tools for research and education in biological sciences. According to Index Herbariorum there are ~2885 registered herbaria containing approximately 375,480,850 specimens. In North America there are 723 herbaria and over 85 million specimens accounting for 25% of the herbaria and 23% of the collections in the world. Herbaria in North America began by exploring local plant diversity and over time some became research centers with broader interests. In fact, the 33 largest herbaria in North America (those with at least 600,000 collections) hold 63% of the specimens and have substantial holdings from outside the area. Nearly all of these large institutions were founded in the mid 1800’s (oldest is PH in 1812) and have strong collections from the Neotropics. An informal investigation indicated that non-North American collections account for about half of those housed in the larger North American institutions. The 20th Century was a period of expansion and a large number flora and inventory projects were started so it was characterized by intensive collecting and staff growth fuelled by these projects. However by the late 20th Century the creation of these projects had slowed as funding for such baseline efforts had mostly disappeared in North America to be replaced by question driven research that sponsors more targeted collecting efforts. Today many herbaria are under-valued and their existence is threatened. More small and medium sized herbaria, especially at Universities, are being downsized or closed and some are relocated to larger herbaria removing them from their niche and creating additional pressure on the budgets of their new home. In the early days collecting expeditions took most material to their home institutions. However, in the last 30 years, most large herbaria have increased their collaboration with tropical institutions by providing access to valuable historical collections and literature as well as graduate education and training allowing them to further develop their research and collecting programs. As a result, multinational projects are now underway leading to the discovery and documentation of tropical plant diversity and a shared responsibility for both the collection and preservation of specimens. Today staff and students from tropical herbaria are leading the majority of the collecting trips and sponsoring most new floras and inventory projects in the tropics. North American herbaria and their counter parts in the tropics are colleagues as well as friends and are working together to document biodiversity and provide stability for collections everywhere