[NHCOLL-L:2403] ASPT Position Statement

Alan Prather alan at msu.edu
Thu Aug 26 11:20:11 EDT 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.

Alan Prather
MSU Dept. of Plant Biology
166 Plant Biology, Wilson Road
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48824-1312

Office 517-355-4695
fax 517-353-1926


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