Herbaria: Collectively Saving Plant and Fungal Biodiversity
How do herbariums facilitate the study of life at both the molecular level & on a global scale to address some of the most critical problems we face today?
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ONLINE EVENING LECTURE 18.00–19:00 THURS, 13 MAY 2021
For the past almost six centuries, scientists have been documenting the plants and fungi of the world through herbaria. This tiny invention — specimen preservation — was a key innovation in transforming the study of these organisms from a minor subdiscipline of medicine into an independent scientific endeavor.
At this lecture, Dr Barbara Thiers, Vice President & Director of the William and Lynda Steere Herbarium, and Curator of Bryophytes at The New York Botanical Garden (NYBG), will illuminate the myriad ways in which the herbarium has made it possible for scientists to characterize the plants and fungi that grow in faraway places and to understand their diversity on a global scale.
The men and women collectors and curators responsible for the wealth of herbaria we have today (about 3,300 herbaria holding an estimated 393 million specimens), are diverse in national heritage, education and social status. The geographic, taxonomic, and temporal breadth of their legacy allows us to understand the diversity of the world’s vegetation in the past and present, and to predict its future.
Herbaria still serve their original function – to document the occurrence of plants and fungi and provide a reference for their identification and characterization. However, recent technological advances that facilitate the study of life at both the molecular level and on a global scale can be applied to herbarium specimens to help address some of the most critical problems we face today. New ways of sharing information allow herbaria demonstrate the importance of plants and healthy ecosystems to an audience far beyond the scientific community.
Dr Barbara Thiers is responsible for overseeing the NYBG's 7.9 million collections of algae, bryophytes, fungi and vascular plants and the approximately 30 staff members who manage these collections. The Steere Herbarium is the largest in the Western Hemisphere, and third largest in the world. It is the world’s most heavily used herbaria in terms of the number of specimens loaned or imaged on demand, and the number of visitors to the Herbarium. Dr Thiers has been particularly interested in the application of information technology to herbarium management, and to increasing access to specimen-based data for the scientific community.
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