Herbaria: Valuable, But Fragile Treasure Troves of Data

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Michael Grandi
Eric Tepe


By Michael Grandi, Biological Sciences

Advisor: Eric Tepe

Award: Excellence in Research Communication

Presentation ID: 242

Abstract: The world's 3500 herbaria contain nearly 300 million specimens with unique stories about the physical and cultural environments they are from and the people who interacted with them. The problem is, many specimens are not available to the public, haven't been touched in decades, or haven't been taken care of properly. Numerous studies describe the ways that herbarium collections can give insights about the climate when they were collected, feeding habits of insects as well as showing how extinction, invasive species, and human activity have altered the general spread of plants in the wild. The goals of this research were to understand the process of how specimen labels are deciphered and entered into a database to make collections more accessible, and how specimens are repaired and preserved to maximize their utility and longevity. To achieve these goals, specimens ranging from Samoa to Italy were repaired and databased. Speaking French and Italian was useful as there were some labels in these languages. Repairing specimens required being delicate and precise, making sure not to damage them during the process, and ensuring that they were in a more stable state than before. In the end, the specimens had plenty of information to tell me when the native names and ages of specimens were present. This opens a window into the past and to other cultures which is integral to the conservation of the planet and its history. Failure to protect and preserve this information would be a tragic loss of historic information. 

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Category: The Natural World