Virginia Institute of Marine Science
Ichthyology & Herpetology
Museum specimens serve as the bedrock of systematic and taxonomic research and provide the basis for repeatability or reinterpretation of preserved aspects of phenotypes. Specimens are also fundamental to fields such as ecology, behavior, and development. Each specimen is a record of biodiversity and documents a particular species present at a particular place at a particular time. As such, specimens can provide key evidence for biodiversity and conservation initiatives. Four aspects of natural history collections and their use are discussed here: 1) collection, curation, and use of specimens, particularly non-traditional specimens; 2) the use of specimens and technological advances in morphology, ontogeny, systematics, and taxonomy; 3) specimen use in other fields of biology and ecology; and 4) specimen use in education and outreach. Collections, and their vitality, depend on both their continued roles in traditionally supported fields (e.g., taxonomy) as well as emerging arenas (e.g., epidemiology). Just as a library that ceases buying books becomes obsolete, or at least has diminished relevance, a natural history collection that does not continue to grow by adding new specimens ultimately will limit its utility. We discuss these roles of specimens and speak directly to the need to increase the visibility of the inherent value of natural history collections and the care of the specimens they protect for future generations.
Hilton, Eric J.; Watkins-Colwell, Gregory J.; and Huber, Sarah K., The Expanding Role of Natural History Collections (2021). Ichthyology & Herpetology, 109(2), 379-391.