From Plant Press, Vol. 21, No. 3, July 2018.
A recent open-access paper published in the Journal of Systematics and Evolution (a journal co-edited by Botany Department member Jun Wen) discusses the importance of collections based research from the 1700s to 2100 (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/jse.12315).
In the article, the author, Botany Curator Vicki Funk, discusses discoveries from collections-based science that have changed the way we perceive ourselves, our environment, and our place in the universe.
The narrative begins with the 18th century, which saw the beginning of formal classification with Linnaeus proposing a system to classify all of life. Passing through the 19th century, the age of exploration ushered in as naturalists undertook large-scale collecting expeditions leading to major scientific advances (the founding of Physical Geography, Meteorology, Ecology, Biogeography, and Evolution) and challenging long held beliefs about nature. Moving into the 20th century, Funk explains how collections were central to paradigm shifts, including theories of Continental Drift and Phylogenetic Systematics, and explains how Molecular Phylogenetics added testable hypotheses and computerized specimen records gave rise to the field of Biodiversity.
In more recent times, the first 15 years of the 21st century, Funk suggests that tree-thinking has pervaded the life sciences leading to the emergence of Evolutionary Medicine, Evolutionary Ecology, and new Food Safety methods. Finally, Funk looks into the future and how collections-based research is staged to produce even more advances: 1) open access to large amounts of specimen data & images; 2) linking of collections and climate data to phylogenies on a global scale; and 3) production of vast quantities of genomic data allowing researchers to address big evolutionary questions. Because of collections-based science, people see themselves not as the center of all things, but rather as part of a complex universe.
The paper concludes by stating that it is essential that we integrate new discoveries with knowledge from the past (e.g., collections) in order to understand this planet we all inhabit, and suggests that we must come together and plan for the future.
This paper is posted on ResearchGate, a social networking site for scientists and researchers, where readers can post comments.