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Rethinking the museum specimen in the digital age
September 9, 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm
Speaker: Mason Heberling, Carnegie Museum of Natural History
Natural history collections are receiving unprecedented attention due to recently developed tools, new perspectives, and perhaps most notably, their increased accessibility through widespread digitization. With nearly 390 million plant specimens collected by thousands of botanists over nearly five centuries in museums worldwide, herbaria (collections of preserved dead plants) comprise an enormous resource for understanding the world around us. These collections were historically established and maintained primarily for taxonomic study (the classification and naming of life) and related uses. Though their longstanding functions remain relevant, museum specimens are increasingly being used in novel and unanticipated ways by a diverse array of disciplines. Mason Heberling will discuss the past, present, and future of herbarium specimen use, highlighting examples from his latest research on invasive species and climate change. In addition to maximizing our use of existing collections, an open re-evaluation of the very collection event itself is needed to ensure we are effectively documenting our rapidly changing world. The use of digital observations and community science platforms, such as iNaturalist, provide a powerful approach to enhance the research value of specimens. As we enter the Anthropocene, a new geological epoch marked by global environmental changes, herbaria have likewise entered a new era with enhanced scientific, educational, and societal relevance.