Our Discovery Mission

Our mission, should we choose to accept it, is to discover and document all remaining Australian species of plants, animals, fungi and other organisms ... in a generation.

Part 3 - Whiteboards

The ideas below have been contributed to the whiteboard for discussion during the roundtable breakouts. You can add to them on the Whiteboard ideas page

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Roundtable 10: Collections

There will be many implications of an accelerated species discovery mission for biodiversity collections - think of all the extra specimens collected in the field, loans and exchanges, management of DNA vouchers, samples and sequences, and management of collection databases and information systems. This roundtable will explore these issues, including:

  • How will collections cope with a significantly expanded role and workload?

  • Could some aspects of current collections practices become more efficient? If so, which, and how?

  • What will a collection even look like in 20 years time?

Your ideas:

This idea is already in practice at the Paris Herbarium for 5 years: Using barcodes on herbarium specimens and a barcode scanner to rapidly and seamlessly identify collection units, update them in the database, and print new determination labels to be affixed to the specimens.

This simple, achievable innovation substantially accelerates a researchers ability to curate the collection by minimising what can be hours of manual handling and typing into a process that takes minutes.

Ashley Field

This idea is already in practice at the Paris Herbarium for 5 years: Using barcodes on herbarium specimens and a barcode scanner to rapidly and seamlessly identify collection units, update them in the database, and print new determination labels to be affixed to the specimens.

 

This simple, achievable innovation substantially accelerates a researchers ability to curate the collection by minimising what can be hours of manual handling and typing into a process that takes minutes.

Ashley Field

Digitising collections is imperative. As mentioned in one of the talks for some taxa it is relatively easy to curate specimens in other collections if digital images are available. This certainly is a cost effective way of improving collections that are remote to an expert.

Bevan Buirchell

This idea is already in practice at the Paris Herbarium for 5 years: Using barcodes on herbarium specimens and a barcode scanner to rapidly and seamlessly identify collection units, update them in the database, and print new determination labels to be affixed to the specimens.

 

This simple, achievable innovation substantially accelerates a researchers ability to curate the collection by minimising what can be hours of manual handling and typing into a process that takes minutes.

Ashley Field

  1. How will collections cope with a significantly expanded role and workload?

There is an increased role citizen science and volunteers can play in this area, both on-site and on-line, if the right framework and management strategies are in place. An additional resource that could be tapped is school and undergraduate courses, coupled with internships at collection institutions. This would also provide a nice grounding for the next generation of taxonomists.

Procedures across a range of institutions charged with management of collections could be reviewed for common issues and best practice solutions. Technology needs to be embraced, methods employed across a range of other areas that have similar demands in cataloguing, tracking, and making available data and objects, need to be examined to determine what could work with biological specimens, e.g. on-line retail warehouses and major libraries.

 

2. Could some aspects of current collections practices become
more efficient? If so, which, and how?

One current bottleneck is transcription of collection event data (i.e. site, environmental parameters, collection method, specimen fixation, date, collector, etc), particularly where material is split across institutions from major bioblitzes or expeditions. A master template of collection event data, possibly tailored to specific taxa and/or environments, connected to a portal where any collectors could upload their information and from which it could be downloaded by the various institutions receiving material would help to remove this bottleneck, so that the same data is not transferred and loaded or transcribed separately in different ways and taking up resources each time across multiple different institutions.

The communication of the availability of new material for taxonomists to study is often currently reliant on direct contact between collection managers and taxonomists, and/or the formal registration of material into collections and release of records onto on-line databases which then need to be periodically checked. An on-line portal that taxonomists interested in particular taxa could register to and that they would receive an alert from when either a formal registration or informal recording of their taxon of interest is found/lodged in a collection institution may help with communication about what is available for study. Similarly, institutions holding collections should be encouraged to review their legacy holdings of undatabased material and provide a summary of taxa and localities that taxonomists could review for targeted study - allowing a bioblitz/expedition of museum legacy colllections (see ideas in roundtable 1 on field campaigns). This would also be made available on-line with alerts to registered taxonomists, an ALA for undatabased material.

 

3. What will a collection even look like in 20 years time?

Hopefully there will be more institutions dedicated purely to the study and documentation of biodiversity and support of taxonomic work, such as seed and tissue banks as well as collections of whole specimens. A comment was made in several presentations that other activities such as administration and management responsibilities often lowers the productivity of taxonomists. Similarly, in institutions that have a number of different objectives, such as museums where a focus is often on other areas such as education and entertainment coupled with other areas of science such as anthropology and ecology, collections often do not receive the allocation of resources they require. These multiple roles of institutions are often the result of the history of the institution and it's evolution in society, and also the development of taxonomic collections from cabinets of curiosity to tools for scientific research. While the connection between taxonomy and institutions addressing education is important, more specialist institutions for collections and taxonomic work would remove many of the inefficiencies of the current situation and allow staff involved to focus more on the task at hand.

 

 

Stephen Keable

I would like to see better use made of information supplied with collections. When I deposit a mushroom collection in the herbarium, it includes a brief description, photographs of the collection in the field; GenBank numbers are added later. However, when I do an on-line search of the herbarium collections, there are no images or sequence numbers. This has implications for ALA because images of mushrooms on the ALA website are beautiful pictures from the field, uploaded from image websites; they have a name which may or may not be correct, whilst authenticated images linked to herbarium specimens are no where to be seen. If we are encouraging citizen science, we need to use all resources available to be confident the names on images are correct.

Elaine Davison

This idea is already in practice at the Paris Herbarium for 5 years: Using barcodes on herbarium specimens and a barcode scanner to rapidly and seamlessly identify collection units, update them in the database, and print new determination labels to be affixed to the specimens.

 

This simple, achievable innovation substantially accelerates a researchers ability to curate the collection by minimising what can be hours of manual handling and typing into a process that takes minutes.

Ashley Field

1. Ideally we need ultra-freeze stored subsamples of tissue reference collections that are preserved in standard contamination-free ways. This however requires specific training & is time consuming.

2. collection management staff are generally overwhelmed & adding more databasing & preservation layers definitely needs more personal and support.

3. In WA people have permitting requirements to deposit specimens at the WA museum, so at times we get bulk material from large expeditions. It is assumed the museum has the capacity to deal with the specimens but the onus needs to be on the collecting institutions to provide funding for tech assistance to assist with the collection management.

Zoe Richards

Our museum has a policy to not increase our registration backlog so all new material must be registered. All loan specimens must be registered before being sent. A significant increase in new accessions and requested loans will directly impact our limited collection management staff.

Ken Walker

More (or better) ideas? Add them here.

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