R.W. Moriarty Science Seminar Presents: “Stories from the dead: What museum specimens tell us about the living world”
Speaker: Mason Heberling, Carnegie Museum of Natural History
Assistant Curator, Section of Botany
This event will take place Monday, October 24 at Noon both online and at Earth Theater.
Abstract: Why does Carnegie Museum of Natural History have 22 million specimens and objects? Though impressive, it is not always obvious what purposes these collections serve. Is the practice a thing of the past? In this talk, Heberling will share his journey from a plant ecologist with little experience with collections to his research today that deeply relies upon herbarium specimens. With over 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. Historically, these collections were used to understand, describe, and organize the tree of life (taxonomy and systematics). While these longstanding uses remain relevant in modern research, the use of museum collections has deepened and expanded in unanticipated ways. Heberling will highlight his research using collections to understand plant responses in a time of rapid environmental changes. As novel uses of specimens are increasing, new curatorial needs and perspectives need to be considered, including an open re-evaluation of the very collection event itself. As we enter the Anthropocene, herbaria have likewise entered a new era with enhanced scientific, educational, and societal relevance.