Lindsay Museum’s Purpose
The Value of our Biological CollectionsPosted on: July 23rd, 2020
Sheltering-in-Place Blog Entry #15
Field biologists, archaeologists, and other “-ologists” are familiar with the craft and science of collecting. Scientists make observations, collect data, and preserve specimens to document their findings and create records for posterity. For science, collections are much more than endless drawers or cabinets with animals on pins, stuffed birds or mammals, rocks in boxes, or artifacts in glass cases. For example, Lindsay’s specimen collection was assembled with extraordinary care over the past 65 years by people interested in sharing discoveries, our natural history, our past, and our treasures. The collection is eclectic and varied, with many exciting and unusual elements, some with unique histories. We’ll talk about our living collection of extraordinary and beloved animal ambassadors and our archaeological collection in a separate essay.
In general, a biological collection consists of:
- Preserved specimens that are representative of an area’s living biodiversity;
- The information associated with each sample, its scientific and common names, location, who collected and identified it, its biology, the staff who manage the collection such as curators, taxonomists, specialists, computer scientists, students, volunteers, citizens and administrators; and
- The physical and technological resources (equipment, space, storage) that allow management of and access to the collection.
If any of these elements are missing or deficient, the collection is at risk, as are the benefits it offers to society. Lindsay’s commitment to continue maintaining our 16,000-specimen collection is an example of how important and useful it is to our community and future generations.
The benefits of maintaining and sharing biological collections include:
They help us to learn and understand our biodiversity. If we do not know what we have, we cannot understand, protect, develop, or use it to benefit our society. Biological collections and their associated data are part of our biodiversity library.
They support the conservation of our natural resources. There have been cases of species extinctions in California and several species that are in danger of becoming extinct. Biological collections are a way to document what exists in natural areas and ensure that we do not lose or irreparably damage their populations or their ability to persist over time.
They promote the education of citizens. Naturalist guides, university professors, science writers, agricultural and fisheries technicians, veterinarians, teachers, and others depend on the accumulated information from biological collections. Knowledge of biodiversity also helps people make better decisions about their activities. Knowing our biodiversity enhances the quality of life for the rest of the public, allowing people to understand their place in the local ecosystems and become active in their protection.
They serve the community and society, providing information in many fields. For example, agriculture (pests, biological controls, pollinators, natural pest controls, and other useful species); health and medicine (species dangerous to health, natural disease controls, and new medicines); industry (technologies originating from observations of organisms, aerodynamic designs, nanotechnologies, and architecture); environmental management (analysis of the impacts of commercial activities, monitoring of ecosystem health, and restoration of impacted areas); crime (used to identify species and their fragments that can connect people to a crime); and in archaeology, ethnography and social history (giving information on the historical conditions, customs and uses of the nature of extinct societies and the ages of archaeological artifacts).
We can only realize these uses and benefits if we treat our natural specimen collections as living/vital resources that provide researchers and students access; if we manage them with a high degree of capacity and knowledge, and if they continue to develop and increase with new information and biological material.
Lindsay’s modest collection and those of other regional and national institutions constitute an irreplaceable and unparalleled heritage, but only as long as we continue to use, manage, study, lend, discuss, improve, catalog, and publish them. The real value of these collections is that the information they contain will allow us to continue developing our society without destroying the spectacular natural resources that make us a unique area known to the world for its biodiversity and our commitment to conservation.
Dr. Carlos L. de la Rosa