How to arrange a new Herbarium?

Doug Yanega dyanega at POP.UCR.EDU
Tue Jan 29 10:02:56 CST 2002

This may be the first time I've disagreed strongly with Thomas
Lammers, when he says:

>IMO, there is no advantage whatsoever to any system but the ALPHABET.  I've
>always considered a systematic arrangement of herbaria to be carrying a
>good thing too far.  What function does it really serve???  Does having
>specimens arrayed in some phylogenetic sequence *get* you anything, when
>you are trying to use the herbarium?  Furthermore, chances are that at some
>point you will have to rely on relative inexperienced help (e.g., work
>study students).  Looking up cabinet locations will cut their productivity
>by half or more.

Under our previous collection manager, we had some 2 million pinned
specimens arranged alphabetically by families within orders. Since
the original designations 30 years ago, at least 100 family names
have been changed - mostly either added or deleted. If we honestly
wish to keep pace with all these changes, it would require moving
practically every single drawer in the collection. Every time a
family name is changed, in fact, for the foreseeable future, we'd
have to reshuffle dozens of drawers (since we are almost at capacity,
any family that has 5 or more drawers CANNOT be moved without some
compensating moves to make space). Consider just one example: the
family Scarabaeidae has been split, so in addition to having a
section labeled SCARABAEIDAE we'd now need sections labeled
TROGIDAE (and, if you follow some people, also APHODIIDAE,
taxonomic decision alone would conceivably necessitate the movement
of nearly every drawer of beetles in the entire collection in order
to get everything alphabetized properly.

This is stupid.

Since we're going to have to move every drawer anyway, we've decided
to move them into phylogenetic order by superfamilies, and larger
taxa will be divided to subfamily level. This has already been done
for the Hymenoptera. This will ABSOLUTELY minimize the number and
severity of future rearrangements. In other words, if we'd had our
Scarabaeoidea all together to begin with, then all those names above
would have already had their own drawers (as subfamilies of
Scarabaeidae), and basically all we'd need to do would be change the
endings on the drawers from -inae to -idae, and shuffle the
Passalids, Lucanids, and Diphyllostomatids in with the others. All
the rearrangements and movements of drawers would be confined just to
that one superfamily, instead of randomly throughout the whole order.
This is a VAST improvement over alphabetizing. Every cabinet of
Hymenoptera in the collection has a sheet showing the phylogenetic
hierarchy for the order in big friendly letters, with the families
housed in that cabinet highlit in fluorescent yellow (and including
all archaic and alternate family-level names) so any student who
knows the name of a family can easily locate it in the
collection...AND they get a lesson in phylogenetic classification at
the same time.

Maybe people in herbaria don't mind moving sheets from one cabinet to
another every time a family name is changed, but wouldn't it STILL be
better if you only had to move sheets at most from one cabinet to an
*adjacent* cabinet, instead of one on the other side of the herbarium?


Doug Yanega        Dept. of Entomology         Entomology Research Museum
Univ. of California - Riverside, Riverside, CA 92521
phone: (909) 787-4315 (standard disclaimer: opinions are mine, not UCR's)
   "There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness
         is the true method" - Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chap. 82

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