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This week’s news that Australian customs officers incinerated irreplaceable plant specimens has shocked botanists around the world, and left many concerned about possible impacts on international research exchanges. Some have put a freeze on sending samples to Australia until they are assured that their packages won’t meet a similar fate, and others are discussing broader ways of assuring safe passage of priceless specimens. "This story is likely to have a major chilling effect on the loan system between herbaria across national boundaries," says Austin Mast, president of the Society of Herbarium Curators and director of the herbarium at Florida State University in Tallahassee. "Without the free sharing of specimens, the pace of plant diversity research slows." As a result of the customs debacle, curators in New Zealand put a stay on shipping samples to Australia. So has the New York Botanical Garden in New York City, which holds the second largest collection of preserved plants in the world. "We, and many other herbaria, will not send specimens to Australia until we are sure this situation will not be repeated," says herbarium Director Barbara Thiers. Herbaria are guardians of plant biodiversity data. Around the world, about 3000 institutions keep a total of 350 million plants specimens that have been pressed, dried, and stored in cabinets. Some are hundreds of years old; others are rare examples of extinct species. Particularly valuable are so-called type specimens, used to describe species for the first time. Botanists consult these when they are identifying new species or revising taxonomy. Many herbaria have digitized images of their specimens, allowing initial research to be conducted remotely. But some details must be examined first-hand. To do that, biologists often request specimens through a kind of interlibrary loan. "The system works well when the risk of damage or destruction of loaned specimens is perceived to be very low," Mast says. But sometimes things go awry. Earlier this week, many botanists learned about the destruction of six type specimens of daisies—some collected during a French expedition to Australia from 1791 to 1793—which the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) in Paris had mailed along with 99 other specimens to the Queensland Herbarium in Brisbane, Australia. After the package arrived in Brisbane in early January, the specimens were held up at customs because the paperwork was incomplete. Biosecurity officers asked the Queensland Herbarium for a list of the specimens and how they were preserved, but the herbarium sent its responses to the wrong email address, delaying the response by many weeks. In March, the officers requested clarification, but then incinerated the samples. "It's like taking a painting from the Louvre and burning it," says James Solomon, herbarium curator at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis. According to Australia’s Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, which enforces biosecurity rules, part of the problem was that the samples had a declared value of $2—and its agents routinely destroy low-value items that have been kept longer than 30 days. Michel Guiraud, director of collections at NMNH, says his museum's policy is to put minimal values on shipments. "If it is irreplaceable, there is no way to put an insurance value on it," he says. Guiraud says the package was sent with the usual documentation and he's trying to find out what went wrong. Concerned about the possibility of other scientific samples being destroyed, the museum is considering stopping loans from all of its collections to Australia. Australia’s agriculture department admitted in a statement that it erred in prematurely destroying the specimens, but didn't take sole responsibility for the snafu. "This is a deeply regrettable occurrence, but it does highlight the importance of the shared responsibility of Australia’s biosecurity system, and the need for adherence to import conditions." The department has reviewed its procedures for handling delayed items and is considering how package labels could highlight the “intrinsic value” of scientific specimens. On Monday, officials met with representatives from a consortium of Australasian herbaria to help them understand and comply with importation rules. "At this stage it appears we are resolving the matter very positively," says botanist Michelle Waycott of the University of Adelaide in Australia and the Council of Heads of Australasian Herbaria. A second incident came to light after botanists at the Allan Herbarium in Lincoln, New Zealand, heard last month about the destruction of the French specimens. They inquired about six lichen samples, including a type specimen of Buellia macularis, that they had shipped to the Australian National Herbarium in Canberra last year. It turned out the specimens had been destroyed in October 2016 by biosecurity officers in Sydney, Australia. The department is investigating what happened in this case. New Zealand herbaria have suspended loans to Australia while they wait for written guarantees that their specimens will be safe. “We are disappointed we have lost an important part of our collection but we’re looking forward to further international collaboration,” said Ilse Breitwieser, director of the Allan Herbarium, in a statement this week. Curators elsewhere are reviewing how they ship samples internationally. "We will rethink our policy of lending specimens to countries that would pose a risk for loss of collections," says Christine Niezgoda, collections manager of flowering plants at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, Illinois, who, like others, was surprised to learn that specimens would be destroyed rather than returned. The Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections, which is following the situation in Australia, hopes to increase communication among curators about shipping regulations and border inspection procedures. A long-standing frustration for many is that the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), like its counterpart in Australia, does not have a separate category for low-risk scientific specimens. "The way that the U.S. and Australian governments are treating these shipments is basically going to bring taxonomic work to a halt," says Ellen Dean, curator of the Center for Plant Diversity at the University of California, Davis. "We are thinking of no longer loaning our specimens to other countries, because we are uncertain that APHIS will allow our own specimens back into this country." Whatever the destination, veterans emphasize that every detail matters, even the most obvious. "Nothing derails a shipment faster than a wrong address," says Thiers, who maintains a public database of herbaria addresses and contact information. "Sometimes they don't get returned for years, and unless you take extraordinary measures, you won't get them back." (With the volume of specimens that get mailed from the New York Botanic Garden—up to 30,000 a year—Thiers can't afford tracked shipments and uses cheaper library rate shipping.) Even the most diligent curators confess to late-night worries. "Any time you let something go out the door, there's a risk," says Solomon, who is continuing to send specimens to Australia. "The benefit from making the material available far outweighs the risk." Says Niezgoda: "Collections are meant to be used to promote scientific inquiry and this should not change."


News Article | May 9, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

SYDNEY (AP) — Australian quarantine officials have acknowledged that they reacted a bit too hastily when they destroyed a rare, centuries-old collection of plants from France due to paperwork problems. The Museum of Natural History in Paris sent the flowering plant specimens to a research center in Australia's Queensland state. When the plants arrived in Australia in January, officials determined that the accompanying paperwork failed to comply with the country's notoriously strict quarantine rules. Quarantine authorities then tried to get proper documentation from the Queensland Herbarium, but before they could, biosecurity officers destroyed the plants, the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources said in a statement Tuesday. Michelle Waycott, who heads the Council of Heads of Australasian Herbaria, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that the specimens dated back to the mid-1800s and were irreplaceable. Australia has some of the world's toughest quarantine regulations in a bid to keep pests and diseases from infiltrating its isolated borders and destroying the country's unique wildlife. The strict quarantine policies captured global attention in 2015, when Johnny Depp and his then-wife, Amber Heard, were accused of illegally bringing their pet Yorkshire Terriers into Australia, where Depp was working on a movie. According to the agriculture department, the plants arrived in early January with a declared value of 2 Australian dollars ($1.50) and no indication of their significance. The attached documents failed to include information such as what the specimens were and whether they were preserved, so the department held onto the package while officials worked to get those details. The Queensland Herbarium then called the department saying it would provide the additional documentation, but didn't do so until March 3. Those documents were still deemed insufficient, so the department said it requested more information. By the end of March, no further documents had arrived and the plants were thus destroyed, the department said. The agriculture department said it hung onto the plant specimens for 46 days longer than what is normally required while officials worked to sort out the documentation. But the agency conceded that destroying the plants was "premature," given that officials and the herbarium were still working to sort out the issue. Officials at the Queensland Herbarium declined to comment. The department said it had conducted a review and would take steps to avoid such an incident from happening again.


News Article | May 9, 2017
Site: hosted2.ap.org

(AP) — Australian quarantine officials have acknowledged that they reacted a bit too hastily when they destroyed a rare, centuries-old collection of plants from France due to paperwork problems. The Museum of Natural History in Paris sent the flowering plant specimens to a research center in Australia's Queensland state. When the plants arrived in Australia in January, officials determined that the accompanying paperwork failed to comply with the country's notoriously strict quarantine rules. Quarantine authorities then tried to get proper documentation from the Queensland Herbarium, but before they could, biosecurity officers destroyed the plants, the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources said in a statement Tuesday. Michelle Waycott, who heads the Council of Heads of Australasian Herbaria, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that the specimens dated back to the mid-1800s and were irreplaceable. Australia has some of the world's toughest quarantine regulations in a bid to keep pests and diseases from infiltrating its isolated borders and destroying the country's unique wildlife. The strict quarantine policies captured global attention in 2015, when Johnny Depp and his then-wife, Amber Heard, were accused of illegally bringing their pet Yorkshire Terriers into Australia, where Depp was working on a movie. According to the agriculture department, the plants arrived in early January with a declared value of 2 Australian dollars ($1.50) and no indication of their significance. The attached documents failed to include information such as what the specimens were and whether they were preserved, so the department held onto the package while officials worked to get those details. The Queensland Herbarium then called the department saying it would provide the additional documentation, but didn't do so until March 3. Those documents were still deemed insufficient, so the department said it requested more information. By the end of March, no further documents had arrived and the plants were thus destroyed, the department said. The agriculture department said it hung onto the plant specimens for 46 days longer than what is normally required while officials worked to sort out the documentation. But the agency conceded that destroying the plants was "premature," given that officials and the herbarium were still working to sort out the issue. Officials at the Queensland Herbarium declined to comment. The department said it had conducted a review and would take steps to avoid such an incident from happening again.


News Article | May 11, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

Around 66 million years ago, at the end of the Cretaceous period, a giant asteroid crashed into the present-day Gulf of Mexico, leading to the extinction of the non-avian dinosaurs. How plants were affected is less understood, but fossil records show that ferns were the first plants to recover many thousands of years afterward. Now, a team including Cornell researchers reports the discovery of the first fossilized flowers from South America, and perhaps the entire Southern Hemisphere, following the extinction event. The fossils date back to the early Paleocene epoch, less than one million years after the asteroid struck. They were discovered in shales of the Salamanca Formation in Chubut Province, Patagonia, Argentina. The researchers identified the fossilized flowers as belonging to the buckthorn family (Rhamnaceae). Today, the family is found worldwide. The study was published May 10 in the online journal PLOS One. "The fossilized flowers provide a new window into the earliest Paleocene communities in South America, and they are giving us the opportunity to compare the response to the extinction event on different continents," said Nathan Jud, the paper's first author and a postdoctoral researcher in Maria Gandolfo's lab, a senior research associate at the L.H. Bailey Hortorium and a co-author of the paper. The finding also helps resolve an ongoing debate in the field of paleobotany on the origin of the Rhamnaceae plant family. Scientists have argued about whether early buckthorns originated in an ancient supercontinent called Gondwana, which later split and includes most of the Southern Hemisphere landmasses today; or whether the family originated in another supercontinent called Laurasia that accounts for most of today's Northern Hemisphere landmasses. "This, and a handful of other recently-discovered fossils from the Southern Hemisphere, supports a Gondwanan origin for Rhamnaceae in spite of the relative scarcity of fossils in the Southern Hemisphere relative to the Northern Hemisphere," Jud said. Fossils found in Colombia and Southern Mexico offer evidence that plants from the Rhamnaceae family first appeared in the Late Cretaceous epoch shortly before the extinction event, Jud said. Though there was likely some extinction when the asteroid struck, especially near the crater where everything was destroyed by impact-generated wildfires, he added. One scenario is that Rhamnaceae first appeared in the tropics of Gondwana, but survived the extinction in Patagonia, and then spread from there after the extinction event as plants re-colonized the most affected areas, Jud said. The Salamanca Formation is among the most precisely-dated sites from that era in the world. The age of the fossils was corroborated by radiometric dating (using radioactive isotopes), the global paleomagnetic sequence (signatures of reversals of Earth's magnetic field found in the samples), and fossil correlations (age of other fossils). "These are the only flowers of Danian age [an age that accounts for about 5 million years following the extinction event] for which we have good age control," said Jud. Researchers have discovered other fossilized flowers in India and China from around the Danian age, but their dates are not as precise, he said. To determine that the fossilized flowers from Argentina belonged to the Rhamnaceae family, the authors noticed that the organization of the petals and stamens in the fossil is found in Rhamnaceae and a few other families. They found examples of 10 of the 11 living Rhamnaceae tribes in the L.H. Bailey Hortorium Herbarium at Cornell University, which then were compared with morphological features in the fossil flowers to identify them. Co-authors include Ari Iglesias, a researcher at the Universidad Nacional del Comahue in Argentina, and Peter Wilf, a geoscientist at Pennsylvania State University. The study was funded by the National Science Foundation and the Fulbright Foundation


News Article | May 12, 2017
Site: www.rdmag.com

Around 66 million years ago, at the end of the Cretaceous period, a giant asteroid crashed into the present-day Gulf of Mexico, leading to the extinction of the non-avian dinosaurs. How plants were affected is less understood, but fossil records show that ferns were the first plants to recover many thousands of years afterward. Now, a team including Cornell researchers reports the discovery of the first fossilized flowers from South America, and perhaps the entire Southern Hemisphere, following the extinction event. The fossils date back to the early Paleocene epoch, less than one million years after the asteroid struck. They were discovered in shales of the Salamanca Formation in Chubut Province, Patagonia, Argentina. The researchers identified the fossilized flowers as belonging to the buckthorn family (Rhamnaceae). Today, the family is found worldwide. The study was published May 10 in the online journal PLOS One. “The fossilized flowers provide a new window into the earliest Paleocene communities in South America, and they are giving us the opportunity to compare the response to the extinction event on different continents,” said Nathan Jud, the paper’s first author and a postdoctoral researcher in Maria Gandolfo’s lab, a senior research associate at the L.H. Bailey Hortorium and a co-author of the paper. The finding also helps resolve an ongoing debate in the field of paleobotany on the origin of the Rhamnaceae plant family. Scientists have argued about whether early buckthorns originated in an ancient supercontinent called Gondwana, which later split and includes most of the Southern Hemisphere landmasses today; or whether the family originated in another supercontinent called Laurasia that accounts for most of today’s Northern Hemisphere landmasses. “This, and a handful of other recently-discovered fossils from the Southern Hemisphere, supports a Gondwanan origin for Rhamnaceae in spite of the relative scarcity of fossils in the Southern Hemisphere relative to the Northern Hemisphere,” Jud said. Fossils found in Colombia and Southern Mexico offer evidence that plants from the Rhamnaceae family first appeared in the Late Cretaceous epoch shortly before the extinction event, Jud said. Though there was likely some extinction when the asteroid struck, especially near the crater where everything was destroyed by impact-generated wildfires, he added. One scenario is that Rhamnaceae first appeared in the tropics of Gondwana, but survived the extinction in Patagonia, and then spread from there after the extinction event as plants re-colonized the most affected areas, Jud said. The Salamanca Formation is among the most precisely-dated sites from that era in the world. The age of the fossils was corroborated by radiometric dating (using radioactive isotopes), the global paleomagnetic sequence (signatures of reversals of Earth’s magnetic field found in the samples), and fossil correlations (age of other fossils). “These are the only flowers of Danian age [an age that accounts for about 5 million years following the extinction event] for which we have good age control,” said Jud. Researchers have discovered other fossilized flowers in India and China from around the Danian age, but their dates are not as precise, he said. To determine that the fossilized flowers from Argentina belonged to the Rhamnaceae family, the authors noticed that the organization of the petals and stamens in the fossil is found in Rhamnaceae and a few other families. They found examples of 10 of the 11 living Rhamnaceae tribes in the L.H. Bailey Hortorium Herbarium at Cornell University, which then were compared with morphological features in the fossil flowers to identify them. Co-authors include Ari Iglesias, a researcher at the Universidad Nacional del Comahue in Argentina, and Peter Wilf, a geoscientist at Pennsylvania State University. The study was funded by the National Science Foundation and the Fulbright Foundation.


Fun fact: Australia's custom officials are known for procedures teetering on the absurdly overzealous, thanks to the continent's unique natural environment. But those procedures are under investigation, after officials destroyed "irreplaceable" rare flowering plants sent from France. "They were the first type specimens collected of a species," Michelle Waycott, chair at the Council of Heads of Australasian Herbaria, told ABC News. "That would be the equivalent of material collected in the Flinders expedition, going and then destroying those. So literally irreplaceable collections and of high historic and scientific value." D'oh! These border officials have absolutely zero chill. SEE ALSO: This company is creating a fusion reactor, which is how stars produce energy The plant samples from the Museum of Natural History in Paris dated back to the mid-1800s. It was intended for the Queensland Herbarium, but was destroyed due to paperwork issues in March. In a statement via email, the Department of Agriculture acknowledged "the intrinsic value of the specimens," and conceded that its destruction was "premature." Once the plants were detained, the Queensland Herbarium sent correspondence to an incorrect email address. Ugh. When their information was eventually received, it was not sufficient, and the plants were destroyed in line with policy. RIP, rare flowering plants. A "comprehensive review of this incident" will be undertaken by the department to prevent a similar situation from occurring again. "This is a deeply regrettable occurrence, but it does highlight the importance of the shared responsibility of Australia's biosecurity system, and the need for adherence to import conditions," according to the statement. In a similar incident, New Zealand's Landcare Research Allan Herbarium loaned lichen samples collected in the 1930s to the Australian National Herbarium last year. The loan was to see if lichen found in both countries were similar, but the sample was destroyed by border officials in Sydney. The incident prompted the Allan Herbarium from stopping further samples being sent to Australia until assurances of its safe arrival are made in writing. The department said it was "unaware of this incident," however it is "investigating it as a matter of priority."


News Article | May 12, 2017
Site: www.rdmag.com

Around 66 million years ago, at the end of the Cretaceous period, a giant asteroid crashed into the present-day Gulf of Mexico, leading to the extinction of the non-avian dinosaurs. How plants were affected is less understood, but fossil records show that ferns were the first plants to recover many thousands of years afterward. Now, a team including Cornell researchers reports the discovery of the first fossilized flowers from South America, and perhaps the entire Southern Hemisphere, following the extinction event. The fossils date back to the early Paleocene epoch, less than one million years after the asteroid struck. They were discovered in shales of the Salamanca Formation in Chubut Province, Patagonia, Argentina. The researchers identified the fossilized flowers as belonging to the buckthorn family (Rhamnaceae). Today, the family is found worldwide. The study was published May 10 in the online journal PLOS One. “The fossilized flowers provide a new window into the earliest Paleocene communities in South America, and they are giving us the opportunity to compare the response to the extinction event on different continents,” said Nathan Jud, the paper’s first author and a postdoctoral researcher in Maria Gandolfo’s lab, a senior research associate at the L.H. Bailey Hortorium and a co-author of the paper. The finding also helps resolve an ongoing debate in the field of paleobotany on the origin of the Rhamnaceae plant family. Scientists have argued about whether early buckthorns originated in an ancient supercontinent called Gondwana, which later split and includes most of the Southern Hemisphere landmasses today; or whether the family originated in another supercontinent called Laurasia that accounts for most of today’s Northern Hemisphere landmasses. “This, and a handful of other recently-discovered fossils from the Southern Hemisphere, supports a Gondwanan origin for Rhamnaceae in spite of the relative scarcity of fossils in the Southern Hemisphere relative to the Northern Hemisphere,” Jud said. Fossils found in Colombia and Southern Mexico offer evidence that plants from the Rhamnaceae family first appeared in the Late Cretaceous epoch shortly before the extinction event, Jud said. Though there was likely some extinction when the asteroid struck, especially near the crater where everything was destroyed by impact-generated wildfires, he added. One scenario is that Rhamnaceae first appeared in the tropics of Gondwana, but survived the extinction in Patagonia, and then spread from there after the extinction event as plants re-colonized the most affected areas, Jud said. The Salamanca Formation is among the most precisely-dated sites from that era in the world. The age of the fossils was corroborated by radiometric dating (using radioactive isotopes), the global paleomagnetic sequence (signatures of reversals of Earth’s magnetic field found in the samples), and fossil correlations (age of other fossils). “These are the only flowers of Danian age [an age that accounts for about 5 million years following the extinction event] for which we have good age control,” said Jud. Researchers have discovered other fossilized flowers in India and China from around the Danian age, but their dates are not as precise, he said. To determine that the fossilized flowers from Argentina belonged to the Rhamnaceae family, the authors noticed that the organization of the petals and stamens in the fossil is found in Rhamnaceae and a few other families. They found examples of 10 of the 11 living Rhamnaceae tribes in the L.H. Bailey Hortorium Herbarium at Cornell University, which then were compared with morphological features in the fossil flowers to identify them. Co-authors include Ari Iglesias, a researcher at the Universidad Nacional del Comahue in Argentina, and Peter Wilf, a geoscientist at Pennsylvania State University. The study was funded by the National Science Foundation and the Fulbright Foundation.


La fondation BE OPEN est heureuse d'annoncer le gagnant de son premier appel d'offres vidéo BE OPEN Design Nature. L'appel d'offres de BE OPEN - qui s'est tenu du 7 novembre au 20 décembre - avait pour objectif d'aborder la transformation créatrice du monde qui nous environne, en explorant l'interconnexion entre le design et la nature dans son sens le plus large. Plus d'une centaine de vidéos ont été postées sur la page Instagram de BE OPEN au cours de ce projet, soumises par des créateurs issus de 23 pays à travers le monde. Les participants avaient pour mission d'examiner et de visualiser les façons dont le design et la nature peuvent s'entremêler, se compléter et s'enrichir l'un l'autre, créer une opposition ou bien une harmonie, ou même encore être en parfaite adéquation. Le gagnant a été choisi par un jury qui comprend des membres de la communauté BE OPEN, l'équipe Herbarium et le fondateur de BE OPEN, Yelena Baturina. Parmi tous les talentueux candidats, le jury a sélectionné la vidéo qui représentant selon lui le mieux le concept #BEOPENDesignNature, laquelle a été soumise par Michelle Bondesio (@michbondesio). Michelle vit en Angleterre et explore ses talents créatifs à travers l'illustration, l'écriture et la photographie. Yelena Baturina a déclaré : « C'est fantastique de constater que notre appel d'offres a suscité l'intérêt aux quatre coins du monde et qu'il a encouragé des personnes très différentes les unes des autres à explorer leur côté créatif. Les vidéos soumises font preuve d'une approche très approfondie du design. Chacun a exprimé une façon unique d'interpréter la nature comme source d'inspiration pour toutes sortes d'activités humaines, tout en démontrant l'importance de lutter pour une interrelation harmonieuse entre l'homme et le monde naturel. La créativité est selon nous la manière de mener à bien ce changement, et nous remercions tous les participants d'avoir contribué à soutenir cette idée. » Le partenaire officiel de BE OPEN pour ce projet a été Herbarium, un bar autrichien unique en son genre, puisant son inspiration dans la flore locale pour créer des boissons uniques qui ont un effet positif sur le bien-être. Herbarium a pourvu les 1 000 EUR destinés à être attribués au gagnant de l'appel d'offres BE OPEN. BE OPEN a été créé dans l'objectif de favoriser la créativité et l'innovation - un groupe de réflexion (think tank) dont la mission est d'inspirer les gens d'aujourd'hui pour construire les solutions de demain. Il s'agit d'une initiative culturelle et sociale soutenue par la philanthrope et femme d'affaires russe Yelena Baturina. BE OPEN a été créé afin d'exploiter de nouvelles idées et de promouvoir la créativité à l'aide d'un système de conférences, des concours, d'expositions, de cours magistraux et d'événements divers.


News Article | February 18, 2017
Site: phys.org

Because of the effects of heavy metal pollution on environmental and human health, measurement is critical—both in determining current levels and in documenting historical levels. It can be challenging, though, to gather and analyze retrospective data, with methods including chemical analyses of archeological sites and comparison of historical records to sedimentary cores. In a recent article published in Applications in Plant Sciences, researchers at Brown University have demonstrated a unique resource that has been under our feet for decades: pressed herbaceous plants, labeled and stored as herbarium specimens. Herbaria have long been a valuable resource—traditionally to aid in identification of local flora—but more recently to address ecological questions including invasive species and the effects of climate change. Likewise, plants have been used for decades as indicators of heavy metal pollution. This is one of the first studies, however, to demonstrate the efficacy of using herbarium specimens of herbaceous plants to track changes in heavy metal concentrations over time. Using herbaceous plant specimens from Brown University's herbarium collected from 1846 to 1916, Dr. Tim Whitfeld, senior author of the study, and his colleagues extracted and quantified heavy metal concentrations including copper, lead, and zinc. The plant specimens used were collected from different areas around Providence, RI. Looking both across time and around a bustling industrial town at the turn of the 19th century, the authors were able to show that zinc and copper concentrations remained relatively consistent across time, and that lead concentrations reduced significantly from historical records compared to collections from the same areas in 2015. The lead author on the study, Sofia Rudin, an undergraduate at Brown University, was the main motivation for the study. "While working as a herbarium assistant, digitizing our collection, she noticed many of the specimens had specific locality information for various sites around Providence that she knew were former industrial areas. This prompted her to ask whether these specimens could be used for the study we eventually completed," recalls Dr. Whitfeld. Different plant species accumulate heavy metals in unique ways, which makes it challenging to take a broad swathe of plant samples for a simple side-by-side comparison. To control for this variability, it was important to match the species of historical samples with those found in the same area today. In a few instances this was not possible, and therefore the researchers were limited to sampling within the same genus. Additional challenges arose because of the nature of utilizing historical collections. Whitfeld explains, "Sofia encountered particular problems with the analysis of mercury concentrations because of the historical use of mercuric chloride as an insecticide in herbarium collections. It was impossible to accurately assess Hg [mercury] concentrations in the plant because the insecticide treatment saturated the sensor. This was unfortunate because documenting changes to Hg [mercury] through time was originally one of our research goals." Despite these challenges, the authors were still able to emphasize broader trends in heavy metal accumulation in the Providence area, namely decreases in lead concentrations due in part to Environmental Protection Agency regulations but also to targeted remediation efforts in a historically active industrial area. Whitfeld and his colleagues aren't finished yet. According to Whitfeld, "Sofia is building on this project with a more detailed analysis of heavy metal concentrations at one of our study sites. Her work includes analysis of pond sediments, soils, and more collecting to document plant diversity... We're also hoping to cast a broader net across Providence with an analysis of historical specimens of Plantago [plantain] in an attempt to match terrestrial trends in heavy metal concentration with measurements taken from nearby marine sediments in Narragansett Bay [south of Providence]." In addition to the study's goal of demonstrating the usefulness of herbarium specimens to measure levels of heavy metal concentrations, the study had a second, equally important goal. As Whitfeld explains, "We wanted to highlight the relevance of herbarium collections for a wide variety of ecological questions, in order to highlight their importance across the biological and environmental sciences." The list of ecological questions that herbaria can target is long, and includes biogeography, ethnobotany, tracking invasive species, plant diseases, and studying the impact of climate change on flowering times. The impact of herbaria on research doesn't stop there though. As Dr. Whitfeld elaborates, "Herbarium collections are particularly valuable tools in undergraduate science education. It's been my experience that students are especially motivated to contribute to the collections and including opportunities for collecting and offering field experience for this to happen is an effective way to engage students in botany. Therefore, if universities invest in maintaining their herbarium collections there is a great payoff in terms of increased educational opportunities." In addition to the benefit to educational opportunities, investments in herbaria result in increased potential for further retrospective studies. "The many online herbarium portals that compile digital images and label data from across different collections are useful for any type of study that requires more specimens than contained in the researcher's home collection," notes Whitfeld. "It's especially important for smaller herbaria to be able to search and access collections from larger institutions in order to broaden their studies." Explore further: Herbaria prove valuable in demonstrating long-term changes in plant populations More information: Sofia M. Rudin et al, Retrospective Analysis of Heavy Metal Contamination in Rhode Island Based on Old and New Herbarium Specimens, Applications in Plant Sciences (2017). DOI: 10.3732/apps.1600108


Gardiner L.M.,Herbarium
Phytotaxa | Year: 2012

A number of new combinations of names in subtribe Aeridinae are needed to bring species nomenclature for Vanda into alignment with recent phylogenetic analyses and a treatment to be published in a forthcoming volume of Genera orchidacearum. I present 17 name transfers from Ascocentrum, Ascocentropsis, Christensonia, Eparmatostigma, and Neofinetia to Vanda or indicate where there are existing epithets combined previously in Vanda. © 2012 Magnolia Press.

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