Catalog vs curate

Ken J. Harrison KHarrison at FCMR.FORESTRY.CA
Tue Oct 17 11:36:11 CDT 1995

Dear Taxacom:
We have watched the recent exchange of views on this thread last month with
interest. In our case, we curate a regional forest insect reference
collection and a forest disease herbarium which share a room in our forestry

The forest entomology reference collection has about 100,000 specimens with
material from the 1930's to the present and gifts of exotic material dating
from the 1910-1920 era. The forest disease herbarium has 8200 collections
dating from 1950.

It may be different in other fields but in forest entomology and mycology,
the taxonomy of many groups is still unsettled and regional specialists have
been few and far between. For some large groups (like the Coleoptera), there
is no recent useful regional checklist or catalogue to guide curation. Even
though most of our insect records and all of our disease records have been
computerized in the Forest Insect and Disease Survey national database since
1968, we would be very reluctant to set a group of cataloguers loose in the
collections. There are many insect records which pre-date computerization,
are listed under old, obsolete synonyms and this material would have to be
examined and curated before it could be accurately or properly catalogued.

We can echo Doug Yanega's posting concerning the completeness and accuracy
of both data labels and computer records. Errors slip through the best error
checking routines and scambled digits can generate some 'interesting'
records. It seems to us that there is simply no viable replacement or
substitute for the trained eye and experience. We feel that if our records
are going to be used as the basis for national or regional plant quarantine
decisions concerning exotic or immigrant pests and diseases, then they must
be as accurate as humanly possible.

With small collections, like ours, the curation and cataloguing functions
are inseparable since they reside in one person for entomology (GS) and one
for mycology (KH). Some may consider curation as an adjunct to, rather than
the integral part of our regular identification work, but we beg to differ.
With the exception of the occasional volunteer, there are simply no clerical
or technical support staff. With the increased emphasis on knowledge of the
broad diversity of insects and fungi and not a simple focus on the forest
"pest species", we are keenly aware of how little time we are able to devote
to curation.

Georgette Smith
Tel: 506-452-3569       FAX: 506-452-3078
E-Mail: GSmith at
Ken Harrison
Forest Insect and Disease Survey
Canadian Forest Service - Maritimes Region
P.O. Box 4000, Regent Street South
Fredericton, New Brunswick
Canada    E3B 5P7

Tel: 506-452-3513       FAX: 506-452-3078       E-Mail:
KHarrison at

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