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A gobal approach for natural history museum collections

Popular Science – Is there a way to keep track of all the items held in natural history museums? Charlotte Hu: “Natural history museums offer amazing portals into worlds miles away from our own, and into eras from the distant past. Comprised of fossils, minerals, preserved specimens, and much more, some collections are of palatial grandeur. Although every museum has some sort of system in place to track incoming and outgoing items, those systems are not connected, museum to museum. Keeping a more detailed record of who has what across the world could not only be important for conservation, but for cataloging how life on Earth has changed, and forecasting how it will continue to do so in the future.  For example, there are case studies showing how analyzing the collections of these museums can be useful for studying pandemic preparedness, invasive species, colonial heritage, and more.  But this lack of connection might be a thing of the past. A paper published in the journal Science last week describes how a dozen large museums came together to map the entire collections of 73 of the world’s largest natural history museums across 28 countries in order to figure out what digital infrastructure is needed to establish a global inventory survey.

Source: Integration of the world’s natural history collections can provide a resource for decision-makers. Kirk R. JohnsonIan F. P. Owens, and the Global Collection Group. 23 Mar 2023 Vol 379, Issue 6638 pp. 1192-1194 DOI: 10.1126/science.adf6434 – Over the past three centuries, people have collected objects and specimens and placed them in natural history museums throughout the world. Taken as a whole, this global collection is the physical basis for our understanding of the natural world and our place in it, an unparalleled source of information that is directly relevant to issues as diverse as wildlife conservation, climate change, pandemic preparedness, food security, invasive species, rare minerals, and the bioeconomy (1). Strategic coordination and use of the global collection has the potential to focus future collecting and guide decisions that are relevant to the future of humanity and biodiversity. To begin to map the aggregate holdings of the global collection, we describe here a simple and fast method to assess the contents of any natural history museum, and report results based on our assessment of 73 of the world’s largest natural history museums and herbaria from 28 countries. Today, more than a thousand natural history museums exist, with the largest ones located in Europe and North America. The world’s natural history collections provide a window into the planet’s past and present, and they are increasingly being used to make actionable predictions relative to climate change, biodiversity loss, and infectious disease. For example, natural history museum data are the fundamental source of primary biodiversity knowledge underlying major policy frameworks. The 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C used over 385 million species occurrence records, aggregated and tracked by the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), from 5432 data providers, mostly natural history museums (2, 3), to show species movement in response to climate change [see supplementary materials (SM) for additional case studies]…”

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