[Taxacom] US Herbaria, Biological Collections, Society Presidents

Scott L. Gardner slg at unl.edu
Sat Apr 28 13:06:52 CDT 2012

Dear Museum Managers, Directors, Society Presidents, and Herbaria 
Curators and Collection Managers in the USA:

If you have not yet written a strong letter of protest to the director 
of NSF regarding the action by the National Science Foundation - DBI to 
immediately slash by at least 1/2 funding in the Division of Biotic 
Infrastructure (DBI) Collections Support for Biological Research Program 
(CSBR), you should do so as soon as possible.

An excellent letter, included below, was written by the President of the 
American Society of Mammalogists and sent to the NSF on official ASM 

Scott Gardner
Secretary, Natural Science Collections Alliance
Curator of Parasitology
Manter Laboratory of Parasitology


March 15, 2012

Dr. John Wingfield
Assistant Director for Biological Sciences
National Science Foundation
4201 Wilson Boulevard
Arlington, VA 22230
jwingfie at nsf.gov

Dear Dr. Wingfield:

As President of the American Society of Mammalogists and former member 
and chair of the Biological Sciences Advisory Committee for NSF 
(BIO-AC), I am very concerned about a provision in the President’s 
fiscal year (FY) 2013 budget request for NSF that will negatively impact 
the nation’s collections of biological specimens now and in the future. 
The budget request proposes changing the Collections in Support of 
Biological Research (CSBR) program from an annual to a biennial 
competition, which means that the funding for this program would 
effectively be cut in half.

Collections of biological specimens are vital to the study of ecology, 
evolution, and conservation of the world’s biota, both past and present. 
  Descriptions of species new to science rely on such specimens. 
Natural history collections support studies of some of the most 
important problems of our time, including invasive species, emerging 
diseases, cascading extinction, and the effects of climate change. For 
example, The Museum of Vertebrate Zoology (MVZ) at the University of 
California, Berkeley, recently demonstrated the effect of climate change 
in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of central California.  This essential 
study could not have been carried out without the collection of 
historical and contemporary specimens and associated data housed at, and 
cared for, by the MVZ. Various U.S. museums are the sources of accurate 
(and much needed) identifications of vertebrates that may be hosts to 
some of the world’s most serious health risks, such as the Ebola virus, 
West Nile virus, Lyme disease, or bird flu.  Collections of bird 
specimens were used to determine what forced Captain Sullenberger to put 
Flight 1549 into the Hudson River, and generated data to help prevent 
similar occurrences in the future. Collections are used thousands of 
times each day to strengthen research in a vast number of disciplines.

Natural History collections serve a basic educational function as well. 
Whether providing the data needed for a doctoral dissertation or 
instilling a sense of wonder in a high school intern, collections are 
the training ground for budding scientists.  The biodiversity data 
generated by the study and curation of collections is increasingly being 
shared by various museums and is made available to scientists around the 
world.  The global impact of these data cannot be understated. However, 
the specimens (the primary source of the information) must be maintained 
permanently for accurate verification and availability for testing 
future hypotheses. The range of uses of collections expands, and their 
scientific value increases, with the passage of time. Collections are 
clearly the basic data of nature across time and space, an irreplaceable 
and irrefutable record of life present and past.

Vouchered specimens serve a basic tenet of the scientific method, 
allowing for repeatability of studies and providing the opportunity for 
future studies to verify results.  Every single specimen is unique, 
offers matchless and exclusive data, and cannot be replaced.  Many came 
from habitats that have been permanently altered.  Given how important 
and irreplaceable these collections are, it is vital that adequate 
resources be made available to care for them so that they continue to be 
available to future generations. However, many such specimens are under 
severe threat because of poor housing conditions in some of the nation’s 
older collections and museums, or because institutions lack the funding 
necessary for basic care and maintenance of the collection.  Too often 
we are faced with administrative decisions that mandate that the 
collections be dispersed to other institutions, if not disposed of 
entirely, with the subsequent irreplaceable loss of the primary data of 
life.  Unfortunately these trends are increasing.  The cost of 
maintaining collections requires long-term commitment, which must 
include federal support. Many, if not most, of the collections were 
developed with federal support or to meet federal needs in 
specimen-based research. The CSBR program is the most important source 
of government funding to rescue, maintain, and enhance such vitally 
important resources. Reducing the program funding by half would be a 
tragic blow to our ability to deal with serious issues facing society 
and keep our finger on the pulse of the planet as reflected in the 
biological data of specimens across both space and time.

The American Society of Mammalogists—the oldest and largest organization 
of mammalian biologists in the world—has long supported the natural 
science collections of this nation, many of which resulted from research 
by mammalogists and their graduate and undergraduate students. Indeed, 
ASM members have served as directors of the US Biological Survey, the 
Smithsonian Natural History Museum, and many other museums and 
collection repositories in the United States. The contribution of 
biological specimens toward meeting numerous needs of the nation cannot 
be overstated. Today, as species decline in abundance and diversity 
across the globe, as introduced species continue to cost the United 
States as much money each year as the Iraq War, as threats of 
bioterrorism involving living organisms continue to be possible, and as 
ecosystem integrity is threatened by an increasing numbers broken links 
in food webs, the nation’s biological collections continue to provide 
the bedrock of information required by scientific disciplines across a 
broad spectrum.

I urge you to reconsider the proposed cuts to the CSBR program.


Michael A. Mares, Ph.D.
President, American Society of Mammalogists
(mamares at ou.edu)

cc. 	Dr. Subra Suresh, Director NSF (ssuresh at nsf.gov)
Dr. Joann Roskoski, Deputy Assistant Director, Biological Sciences 
(jroskosk at nsf.gov)
Dr. Daphne Fautin, Program Director, DBI Collections (dfautin at nsf.gov)
	Dr. Anne Maglia, Program Director, DBI Collections (amaglia at nsf.gov)
Dr. Jose Nelson Onuchic, Chair, BIOAC (jonuchic at rice.edu)


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
Cell:     402-540-9310

"What made you pull my tail?" - Darwin

"If we don't work to describe and conserve biodiversity now,
our descendants will be very upset."  -slg


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