There is no longer any doubt that the flora and fauna of the Earth are in danger. As biodiversity loss intensifies year after year, a new study suggests museums could play a role in saving nature.
Biodiversity continues to decline around the world. Indeed, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature recently studied 138,374 species and found that around 28% of them are threatened. At the last assessment of the organization in 2014, 24% of the species studied were endangered.
While many research teams work tirelessly to preserve nature, natural history museums could now come to their aid. Thus suggests a new study by researchers at the University of Vermont, in collaboration with international scientists, and published in the journal, Methods in ecology and evolution.
Scientists started from the premise that combating the loss of biodiversity requires an in-depth study of the different animal and plant species in the world, in order to determine whether they are rare or common and, above all, if their populations are in decline. However, such field surveys are often extremely expensive and complex. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, for example, called on 445 experts over a three-year period to prepare one of its reports on the loss of nature.
The scientific importance of museum collections
With this in mind, researchers at the University of Vermont wondered if they could use the archives of natural history museums to identify endangered species and track their evolution over time. They tested this theory with the Fleming Museum of Art’s collection, which contains several specimens of the Florida carpenter ant. The experiment turned out to be successful, and the scientists then repeated the process with other animal and plant species.
Scientists have noticed that rare species in the wild are just as rare in museum collections.
“This is another example of the scientific importance of museum collections. I bet the people who collected these specimens decades or centuries ago had no idea all the ways they would be used,” said Andy Suarez, one of the study’s co-authors.
“Our study shows that despite all the haphazard ways people have collected in the past, the vast collections of natural history museums have the power to answer important questions that in many cases cannot be answered. another way.” – AFP