Deposit of type material

Robin Leech robinl at NAIT.AB.CA
Wed Aug 9 22:59:55 CDT 1995

On Wed, 9 Aug 1995, Jorge Soberon Mainero wrote:

> This morning the committee that is writing the new Mexican regulations
> for scientific collecting permits discussed a topic of interest to many of
> you, and I was asked to use TAXACOM to explore the opinions of foreign
> taxonomists. The point is an article of the law which in the proposal
> reads as follows:
> "In the case that the material collected in Mexico is used to describe
> new species, it will be necessary for the foreign scientist to deposit
> part of the type material in a Mexican collection with an infrastructure
> that guarantees its preservation and maintenance"
> We went for almost two hours over this point without reaching an
> agreement. For several of us the article expressed something which is a
> matter of principle. Oponents to the article, however, felt that it may
> cause unecessary concern among foreign taxonomists without improving what
> is almost a rule of cooperation between the main Mexican collections
> and their foreign counterparts.
> Your comments will be useful for our discussion.
The Aussies have had this kind of problem for years.  Essentially most
type material was taken to UK or European (occasional U.S.) museums.  The
Aussies have made a concerted effort to get type material to Australia.
At the time these types were taken from Australia, Australia was
considered a "3rd" world or colonial nation, essentially, and one to be

It is a fallacy that we in the so-called developed world will continue to
look after museum material in the manner in which it should be kept.  Money
has been drying up, universities have been ridding themselves of "old science"
things such as collections, and when the taxonomist and curator retires,
the position is either not filled (the University of Alberta), or is filled
with a molecular/geneticist type of some sort (Lakehead University).

I recently had a call from a colleague at Lakehead University.  He told
me that he will retire next year.  He asked me where a collection of
beetles I gave him when we were grad students together should go.  I
asked what he meant.  He said that the university is replacing him with
either a geneticist or a molecular type, and that the university wants
nothing do to with the collection.  After discussion, we agreed that it
should go to the Canadian National Collection in Ottawa.

However, this is not a real answer either.  The scientists at the
Canadian National Collection, Agriculture Canada, Ottawa, have had their
job descriptions changed, and, if my information is correct, they are now
doing research only 20% of the time and curatorial time.

Governments and the public do not seem to be interested in paying for the
upkeep and maintenance of museums and collections.  I know this is true
in Canada, Australia and the U.S.,a nd probably elsewhere, too.

A few yars ago, the head of the USNM contacted the then head of the
Entomology Research Institute in Ottawa, and requested that the
holotypes of U.S. material in the Canadian National Collection be sent to
the USNM.  The answer from Ottawa was agreement if all of the holotypes
from Canadian localities in the USNM would, at the same time, be sent to
Ottawa.  The matter was dropped with no further discussion.

Maybe the best way to maintain biological diversity and collections of
organsims is to maintain large tracts of natural area that contain the
organisms we would otherwise put in museum collections.  This would be
the oxymoronic LIVING MUSEUM.  This way the organisms are preserved
during at least our lifetimes, and if future generations keep these
natural areas, then...but then the Spotted Owl is in trouble, and the...

Somehow, we have not done our job correctly.  We have secluded ourselves
in museums, and have shunned publicity for the most part.  We have not,
with the exception of a few individuals such as David Suzuki, impressed
the public and the politicians of the need for cataloguing organisms,
keeping them after the catalogue is made, and so on.  Maybe it is too
late, I do not know.

It seems that most of the 1st world countries that were signatories of the
Rio de Janeiro agreement on biodiversity are not holding up their ends of
the agreement.

Robin Leech

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