Ladybugs and butterflies are attached to pins. Stuffed birds and mammals. dried plants. The extensive collections of natural history museums are an important resource for biologists wishing to conduct archival research. And now it seems to be telling us whether the species is common in the wild, Writes an international team led by American biologists in a Methods in ecology and evolution. The more individuals of a particular species are collected, the more species there are in the field. This association is good news, as it also allows museums to study whether species have increased or decreased in number over time, for example due to climate change.
Whether a species is rare or not is often determined based on fieldwork. But such studies are very time consuming and sometimes charismatic types are preferred. Moreover, they are quick snapshots: they do not show how long some animals or plants have been in severe weather. For this reason, the research team decided to perform a statistical analysis of how well the museum’s collections could support field studies.
In total, the researchers compared 1.4 million field observations and 73,000 museum exhibits of more than 2,200 species, covering 17 datasets — including ants, fish, small mammals, butterflies, bees, trees and wildflowers. Large mammals and birds were not taken into account because they are relatively easy to hunt and therefore often overrepresented in museum collections.
How difficult it can be to put together a representative collection in a museum, as research by Australian and Polish biologists showed in 2019. Then they concluded PNAS that in natural history museums there is often an imbalance between the number of males and females of animals in the group: males are often over-represented, perhaps because their skeletons are often larger and more imposing.
The present analysis showed that there was a strong relationship between field and museum data in sixteen of the seventeen datasets. Specifically, the authors conclude that the presence of flora and fauna in the wild is increasingly affected by human activities and climate change, analyzes of museum collections are becoming increasingly important: they can serve as a reference point in the future.
A version of this article also appeared on NRC on the morning of September 17, 2021
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