[Fwd: Re: New Regionalism]

Stuart G. Poss sgposs at WHALE.ST.USM.EDU
Mon Mar 16 11:17:02 CST 1998

Message-ID: <350D5E4A.66F244C9 at whale.st.usm.edu>
Date: Mon, 16 Mar 1998 11:15:54 -0600
From: "Stuart G. Poss" <sgposs at whale.st.usm.edu>
Organization: Gulf Coast Research Laboratory
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To: Richard Zander <bryo at COMMTECH.NET>
Subject: Re: New Regionalism
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My own feeling is that regional specialization by smaller institutions
can be a very good thing, if it is accompanied by networking both with
other regional institutions and larger institutions, whose general
interests can and do overlap.  We are constantly trying to improve our
efforts at networking, when opportunities arise.

At GCRL we have been cooperating with other archives in the states
bordering the Gulf of Mexico and with larger institutions containing
significant Gulf of Mexico holdings to develop information about species
at potential risk and now about non-indigenous species throughout the
Gulf.  While ours is an important regional collection of fishes, as you
suggest it is a little foolish to assume that one can only study
regional faunas or floras by relying on local talent and collections
alone.  Nonetheless, such networking does provide us with the
opportunity to better define the areas we specialize in, both from the
perspective of collections and research areas.  This helps avoid
unecessary duplication, but also to take advantage of overlap and common
interests when it is desirable.

The networking component is perhaps the most critical for long-term
maintenance of smaller collections and probably for preserving and
studying biodiversity in general.  I believe this is true for several
reasons 1) smaller collections are historically more vulnerable to loss,
because the financial investment in them is often much smaller than for
larger collections, 2) because they are more vulnerable to loss, working
relationships with larger institutions need to be worked out in the sad
event that the collection must be transfered by the community so that it
will not be lost, 3) it helps in developing local support and expertise
by drawing attention to the fact that such work and collections are
regarded as important to other communities as well.

Although there are economies of scale and considerable advantages to the
centralization of resources and expertise, preserving smaller
collections in a geographically distributed context is extremely
important because their holdings are typically nearer to the site of
collection than those from other areas, thus providing local expertise
and support essential to study and preserve these faunas and floras
where they occur.  It is also important because, at least for some
collections such as fishes, the larger collections have increased in
size faster than their support staffs, so that parts of these
collections may be in jeopardy for curation.  Lastly, and perhaps most
importantly, smaller collections provide local residents and students a
resource to learn about and study the fauna and flora that occurs in
their backyard.  Without such distributed training, it is unlikely that
the local support to conserve these species will be in place where it is
most needed, particularly for taxa that do not respect political or
artifical boundaries, nor will sufficiently broad public support be in
place to support larger efforts directed at big problems, such as
"effects global climate change" or "saving the rainforests", or "saving
the oceans", etc.

We may be different institutions receiving different funding and at
times competing for the same resources, however, we must act
increasingly as elements of a single global collection.  The nice thing
about networking, which should not be viewed solely electronic in
nature, is that the new wide area network technologies, for the first
time make it practical, realistic, and cost-effective, to build such a
distributed network of collections and focus areas that behaves
increasingly as a single collection.

My feeling is that anyone associated with collections must make an
efffort to use this technology to get the information inherent in
collections out to the public.  As this is done, natural alliances will
develop that can greatly strengthen the importance of these resources.
These alliances provide a jumping off point for broader, more general
studies and incorporation of materials from outside the regional focus.
This too is important since we need to be mindful to build our
international collections infrastructure like NASA and its foreign
collaborators build spaceships, including a measure of redundancy so
that in the event one component fails the whole system (all material or
expertise from or about a given area) is not lost.  Systematics is big
science and we need to develop a big science perspective that enhances
our regional diversity so that it can be used to build public support
for larger initiatives directed at studying and preserving global

Richard Zander wrote:
> The staff at collection-based institutions are being asked by some
> Directors to limit their research to local or regional problems. I think
> the Natural History Museum at San Diego is being operated this way (I
> may be wrong). My own Director wants both regional research and
> global/general research, so there is essentially no problem here. On the
> other hand, Directors know that they can get more funding from local
> governments, philathropists and businesses if they can demonstrate
> specific projects of perceived value to such funders. I think
> restricting research at regional museums and other of the smaller
> collections-based institutions is ultimately a burden on us all, similar
> to charging each other for loans.
>   Science is basically cross-institutional, cross-time teamwork. No
> local studies can be done without a global perspective. No local
> scientists can study everything locally. There are not enough large
> systematics-oriented institutions to do the exotic/global/general
> research that small or medium regional institutions are now beginning to
> eschew.
>   It's like telling an astronomer to study only OUR sky. Any comments?
> --
> ************************************************************
> Richard H. Zander    Curator of Botany, Buffalo Museum of Science
> 1020 Humboldt Pkwy, Buffalo, NY 14211 USA    bryo at commtech.net
> ************************************************************

Stuart G. Poss                       E-mail: sgposs at seahorse.ims.usm.edu
Senior Research Scientist & Curator  Tel: (228)872-4238
Gulf Coast Research Laboratory       FAX: (228)872-4204
P.O. Box 7000                        703 East Beach Blvd.
Ocean Springs, MS  39566-7000

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