Annapolis, MD; June 24, 2014 – Leaders of the Systematics, Evolution, and Biodiversity Section (SysEB) of the Entomological Society of America (ESA) support museum collections that house biological specimens, and encourage future collecting for conservation and management efforts.
A recent discussion between conservationists and museum curators has focused on the actual value of collecting biological specimens, and whether such collections may harm endangered species. Photographs, audio recordings, and tissue samples have even been suggested as alternatives.
However, entomologists involved with museum collections believe that these alternatives are no match for actual specimens, and that discontinuing collection efforts would be detrimental to science. Furthermore, the notion that modern collecting practices somehow threaten wildlife distracts from the real dangers faced by endangered species, such as habitat loss or degradation.
"The vast majority of animals are quite small, and because of spatial limitations, a scientist moving through a large, complex, three-dimensional environment and encountering a significant part of such a population is simply beyond the capacity to cause extinction," said Dr. Michael Ivie, a former president of ESA. "Anyone who has tried eliminating the mosquitoes from their backyard by slapping can easily understand this."
"The Entomological Society of America is dedicated to the support of biological collections, especially those related to arthropods, the most diverse group of species on Earth," said current ESA President Frank Zalom. "Collections represent a biological observatory not only for the germplasm available from within them, but also for immediate information necessary to study climate change and other grand challenges facing people globally."
"Whole specimens are necessary in order to study morphology and evolution," said Jessica Ware, President of the SysEB Section. "In addition, whole specimens can be preserved and studied in the future in ways that we do not even know about, with technologies that have not yet been invented."
As ESA member Dr. Frank Krell recently co-wrote to Science magazine ("Specimen collection: Plan for the future"), "Molecular data, although helpful in identifications, is neither a panacea nor surrogate for museum specimens, especially when it comes to newly discovered species. Describing a new species without depositing a holotype when a specimen can be preserved borders on taxonomic malpractice."
Leaders of ESA's SysEB Section agree with these sentiments and with those in another recent letter to Science ("Specimen collection: An essential tool") that was signed by 60+ international research institutions, which said, "Halting collection of voucher specimens by scientists would be detrimental not only to our understanding of Earth’s diverse biota and its biological processes, but also for conservation and management efforts."