[Taxacom] Natural History Collections Under ATTACK at UNLV

Scott L. Gardner slg at unl.edu
Tue Mar 18 18:06:39 CDT 2008

Dear listserve readers:

I did not see this letter from Brett Riddle on the taxacom list serve 
but this knowledge should be widespread. Even though it concerns 
Herbaria, this is important in that it provides evidence of the 
continuing demise of Natural History in academic institutions across the 
USA. Please write a letter in strong support of continued and increasing 
diversity on university campuses by strengthening the teaching and 
conservation of nature thorough Natural History collections and research.

Nihilistic attitudes towards Natural History manifested at the 
administrative level at many university campuses tend to proliferate the 
less experience said administrators have had with real natural history 
and outdoors experiences. In the long run, encourage your colleagues to 
avoid hiring people in administrative roles with less than adequate 

In the meantime, lets see a flood of meaningful letters go to Dr. Riddle.

See the letter of request for help below.

-Scott Gardner


13 March 2008

Dear Colleague:

We are writing to inform you of a development of great concern and 
immediacy regarding the future of the Wesley E. Niles Herbarium 
(http://sols.unlv.edu/wesleyniles.htm ) at the University of Nevada, Las 
Vegas ( http://sols.unlv.edu/wesleyniles.htm). We have chosen to send 
this notice to you because you are aware of the importance and value of 
natural history collections and because you have a concern for their 
continued development and maintenance.

Unfortunately, about a week ago, the Dean of the College of Sciences 
informed our herbarium Collections Manager that her half-time line had 
been transferred from the School of Life Sciences (SoLS) to the 
Department of Geosciences. As with many university natural history 
collections, the Niles Herbarium never has had a large support staff. In 
fact, the herbarium Collections Manager is the only salaried position 
within the SoLS devoted to curatorial activities. The Collections 
Manager has been responsible for the development and maintenance of a 
computerized data base for all specimens; accessioning and depositing 
incoming acquisitions; implementing nomenclature revisions; responding 
to requests for regional plant distribution data and plant 
identification; and facilitating herbarium visitations by researchers, 
federal and state agencies, resource managers, students, and the public 
at large.

It should be obvious, regardless of your experience with the maintenance 
of a viable natural history collection that, should the Collections 
Manager position be eliminated at UNLV, the herbarium activities will 
cease, and its educational and research potentials will no longer be 
realized. While the decision to eliminate this herbarium position is 
purportedly linked to the current budget crises that Nevada is 
experiencing, there is reason to believe that this administrative action 
will lead to an eventual displacement of the herbarium from the university.

Dr. Wes Niles (emeritus professor) began compiling the collection 40 
years ago. It now contains 65,000, fully databased specimens of vascular 
plants (about 120 type specimens), and around 5,000 non-vascular plants 
(mosses). The collection contains a geographically and taxonomically 
diverse range of exemplar specimens representing floras from across 
North America, making it an extremely valuable resource for the 
education of UNLV students and faculty in comparative natural history, 
ecology, evolution, systematics, and conservation of vascular and 
non-vascular plants.

However, the core uniqueness and irreplaceable value of the herbarium 
lies in its tremendously detailed geographic and taxonomic coverage of 
plant taxa that occur across the diverse landscapes, ecosystems, and 
biomes that comprise the deserts, mountains, and riparian areas of the 
Mojave Desert and surrounding ecoregions. We emphasize that such a 
library for the floras of this unique segment of North American 
biodiversity is not replicated in any other herbarium.

A living and dynamic natural history collection needs to be available to 
and integrated within an array of user-groups, and the Niles Herbarium 
is irreplaceably important to researchers, resource managers, and a wide 
range of other botanists. Loans of specimens are made to qualified 
researchers working on plant taxonomy and systematics, resulting in a 
wide range of peer-reviewed publications, such as the Intermountain 
Flora and the seminal multi-volume Flora of North America. Resource 
managers and botanists in southern Nevada have a long history of relying 
on the Niles Herbarium as a repository of critical material derived 
through biodiversity inventories on sensitive lands, as a resource 
providing the opportunity to learn and hone taxonomic diagnostic skills, 
and as an historical record of locality information from a part of the 
country that is experiencing a “wildlands to urban” transformation at a 
faster pace than anywhere else in the country.

In short, the Niles Herbarium provides a unique and irreplaceable 
research, education, and biodiversity library resource to the SoLS, the 
College of Sciences, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, the Nevada 
System of Higher Education, the people of the State of Nevada, a broad 
range of state and federal resource management agencies, 
non-governmental organizations, and colleagues in the biological and 
conservation communities across the nation.

We would be grateful to receive any statement that you might wish to 
provide in support of our efforts to retain present curatorial expertise 
and thus secure the continued operation of the herbarium. Your response, 
along with those of others received within the next two weeks, will be 
forwarded to appropriate university administrators. Both letters and 
e-mails are acceptable. They should be directed to:

Dr. Brett R. Riddle
Professor of Biology
School of Life Sciences
University of Nevada, Las Vegas
4505 Maryland Parky.
Las Vegas, NV 89154-4004
email: brett.riddle at unlv.edu
voice: 702.895.3133

Our thanks to you for your interest and help in this endeavor.

Brett Riddle, Ph.D.
Wes Niles, PhD.


+-< >< >< >< >< >< >< >< >< >< >< ><><>< >-+

Scott Lyell Gardner, Ph.D.
Curator and Professor
Harold W. Manter Laboratory of Parasitology
W-529 Nebraska Hall
University of Nebraska State Museum and
School of Biological Sciences
University of Nebraska - Lincoln
Lincoln, Nebraska 68588-0514

e-mail:   slg at unl.edu
Web:      http://hwml.unl.edu
ASP Page: http://asp.unl.edu

Phone:    402-472-3334
Fax:      402-472-8949


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