ASPT Position Statement

Alan at Alan at
Thu Aug 26 11:18:55 CDT 2004

My apologies for cross-posting. This statement has just been released by
the American Society of Plant Taxonomists. Please share it with colleagues
who are not ASPT members.

The Importance of Herbaria
American Society of Plant Taxonomists Position Statement
24 August 2004

The American Society of Plant Taxonomists affirms the crucial role of
natural history collections, and of plant collections in particular, in
research, teaching, and public outreach. Collections of plant specimens
(herbaria) are the foundation for all studies of plant diversity and
evolution. Specimens provide enormous economic and scientific returns to
society and are irreplaceable resources that must be preserved for future

Specimens provide the foundation of nomenclature, the basis for
identification, the common reference for communication, and the vouchers
for floras, as well as for evolutionary and genomic studies. Molecular and
morphological characters that allow us to reconstruct the history of life
can be obtained from herbarium specimens. All fields of biological science
from the level of molecular biology to ecosystem science are dependent on
collections, not just for application of names, but as the basis for
referencing all aspects of biodiversity.

Beyond their scientific importance, herbarium collections offer many
benefits to society by providing data or reference materials for critical
endeavors such as agriculture, human health, biosecurity, forensics,
control of invasive species, conservation biology, natural resources, and
land management. Herbarium collections provide a wealth of information on
our natural heritage and extend back hundreds of years; thus they provide
the only reliable, verifiable record of the changes to our flora during the
expansion of human population.

Because natural history collections play such an important role in societal
endeavors, continued physical and financial support is absolutely critical.
Collections are most valuable in their original institutional and
geographical context.  Because they are historical records linked to a time
and place, lost collections cannot be replaced.  Moreover, many populations
documented in herbaria no longer exist and others are now
protected.  Furthermore, some specimens cannot be replaced due to the
imposition of constraints on collecting. Therefore, ASPT strongly advises
institutions to maintain their collections in perpetuity. Once an
institution divests itself of a collection the institution can never regain
the benefits associated with the collection.

It is imperative that minimum standards regarding environmental conditions
and pest control be met so that specimens can be maintained indefinitely
into the future. As a body of considerable expertise with regard to all
aspects of herbarium curation, research, education, and outreach, the
membership of the American Society of Plant Taxonomists hereby offers its
expertise to help institutions develop management plans for maintaining
collections and to integrate herbarium collections more effectively into
research, education, and outreach activities.

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