biodiversity collections and surveys

Dennis Paulson dpaulson at MAIL.UPS.EDU
Mon Nov 11 11:13:13 CST 1996

All taxonomists/museum people should read an article in the latest
Conservation Biology (10: 703-707) by Kevin Winker, titled "The crumbling
infrastructure of biodiversity:  the avian example."  He writes about the
decrease in the collecting of birds over time, primarily because of public
opinion, and how inappropriate this is because specimen-based research is
alive and well.  This obviously is germane to our ongoing discussion about
the undervaluing of museums and taxonomists (even though a lot of the
specimen-based research in birds *isn't* taxonomic or biodiversity-vouching
at this time).

I suppose people working on bacterial and worm systematics don't have to
worry too much about this, but I have a feeling the same public attitudes
that are at work against killing birds for science will filter down to
other taxa.  Just as an example, we are helping train local people in
in-hand bat identification, as the way to survey bats nowadays seems to be
to net them, identify them in the hand, and release them.  People will come
in here for part of a day, examine hundreds of bat specimens, and (I guess)
go away considering themselves experts.  I have cautioned the people doing
this again and again that some bats are difficult to identify and that
voucher specimens should be saved, *especially* of the rarer species that
these efforts are being made, in part, to detect.  These words fall on deaf
ears.  These field workers love bats--perhaps this is why they took the
job--and wouldn't consider saving any as specimens.  My response that their
surveys might not be taken seriously also falls on deaf ears, as it seems
that in these particular instances people pretty much at all levels of the
research hierarchy are comfortable with doing away with specimen records to
support such surveys.

And I have to mention in odd apposition to the bat story that little
flightless mammals must not be quite so well loved, as there are still
"biodiversity surveys" going on that involve running traplines and killing
hundreds and hundreds of deer mice and other common small mammals
(including lots of shrews even in live traps) in this area when in fact we
probably have a rather good idea what's going on with small-mammal
abundance in our forests.  But people are employed running these traplines,
and, more to the point, the need for such surveys, more and more being
written into our agencies' goals and objectives, is being satisfied.  In
both cases, human biases are influencing programs that might be conducted
quite differently if more objective criteria existed.

Should we develop more objective guidelines for biodiversity surveys?  This
is not a taxonomic issue but affects both efficiency of research and
credibility of results, I feel.

Dennis Paulson, Director                           phone 206-756-3798
Slater Museum of Natural History                 fax 206-756-3352
University of Puget Sound                       e-mail dpaulson at
Tacoma, WA 98416
web site:

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