What are Museum Collections?
Natural history museums hold more than 1.5 billion specimens worldwide. These materials are a critical resource for documenting how changing environmental conditions are impacting biodiversity on our planet because they represent an irreplaceable record of floral and faunal diversity information across vast spatial and temporal scales. They also provide key samples for other questions such as the origin of emerging zoonotic pathogens. To harness the full power of natural history collections, we need to train a new generation of scientists that understand the value of these resources for addressing scientific questions and societal issues.
Specimens provide field-collected (original) data (e.g., species identity, date of collection, georeferenced collection locality, standard specimen measurements) that inform biodiversity assessments and complex models used to project and mitigate the response of organisms to future conditions. Specimens also provide samples for diverse studies in molecular biology (e.g., DNA sequences), ecology (e.g., stable isotopes), evolution (e.g., morphometric data), and many other studies (e.g., parasite-host analyses). Because museums now track and link a growing number of web-accessible databanks (e.g., GenBank), the specimen becomes the nexus for linking diverse sets of “big data” about earth’s changing environments.