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BOTANY COLLECTIONS
• Collecting of botany specimens in
Northwest Territories and Nunavut peaked
in the 1960s, and in subse...
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The critical role of natural history collections in documenting biodiversity of the Arctic in the past, present and future.

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Saarela, J.M.
-Centre for Arctic Knowledge and Exploration, Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

Poster presented at: Arctic Science Summit Week and Arctic Observing Summit, March 2016, Fairbanks, Alaska, U.S.A. Available from: http://www.arcticobservingsummit.org/aos-2016-poster-abstracts-public (accessed 4 May 2016).

ABSTRACT: Changes in the diversity, distribution and ecology of species in the Arctic are predicted and/or already being documented in response to global change. Baseline biodiversity data from the past and present can provide critical points of reference in time and space for measuring change. Core components of biodiversity data are specimens in natural history collections. Natural history specimens are data themselves, documenting the distribution of species in time and space; they serve as vouchers for datasets, allowing future workers to go back to original material to confirm or revise identifications; and they are also sources of new data (morphology, anatomy, toxicology, genetic information, etc.). Biological specimens from the Arctic are a diverse, valuable and irreplaceable component of the polar information spectrum, yet Arctic specimens were collected more frequently in the past than they are today. Core functions of museums are the collection, long-term preservation, stewardship and curation of specimens, and facilitating access to these specimens, both physically and digitally. The Canadian Museum of Nature, founding member of the international Arctic Natural History Museums Alliance, houses the largest – and continually growing – collection of natural history specimens from the Canadian Arctic, with ca. 260K Arctic specimens (including >550 type specimens). Arctic Observing programs on biodiversity should document field observations with specimens whenever possible, and should engage with natural history museums to ensure these specimens are properly preserved and accessible to future generations of researchers. Reciprocally, natural history museums should be more involved in Arctic science discussions to raise awareness and increase usage of their rich collections-based resources, and should engage with researchers who require a permanent repository for their Arctic field collections.

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The critical role of natural history collections in documenting biodiversity of the Arctic in the past, present and future.

  1. 1. BOTANY COLLECTIONS • Collecting of botany specimens in Northwest Territories and Nunavut peaked in the 1960s, and in subsequent decades collecting was fairly consistent through time, based on Canadian Museum of Nature collections data. The sustained focus on Arctic flora research at CMN explains the pattern in recent decades. • By contrast, botany collections from Nunavut and Northwest Territories housed in numerous other Canadian collections demonstrates a strong decline in collecting since the 1960s, similar to the trends observed for zoology collections. Age profile by decade of botany collections from Northwest Territories and Nunavut at the Canadian Museum of Nature (n = 43,841). Age profile by decade of botany collections from Northwest Territories and Nunavut in numerous Canadian collections (not including CMN), accessed via Canadensys (n = 19,881). The critical role of natural history collections in documenting biodiversity of the Arctic in the past, present and future Jeffery M. Saarela - jsaarela@mus-nature.ca Director, Centre for Arctic Knowledge and Exploration • Natural history collections housed in museums, herbaria and universities represent the planet’s permanent record of biodiversity in time and space. • Estimates of the total number of natural history collections range from 1.2-3 billion. Data for only 10-20% of these (ca. 118.5 million specimens) are digitized and available through the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF). • Arctic natural history collections are a diverse, valuable and irreplaceable component of the polar information spectrum. The total number, spatial and temporal distribution, and taxonomic composition of Arctic natural history is not known, because (1) most collections are not digitized; (2) many digitized collections are not geo-referenced, so not all Arctic records can be found in map-based searches; (3) Arctic specimens and digitized collection data are distributed across many different institutions and repositories; and (4) it is difficult to count collections by ecozone. • Collections are often used in ways that were unanticipated by the original collectors. We cannot predict all the future questions that today’s Arctic specimens may help answer. • Arctic Observing programs on biodiversity should document field observations with specimens whenever possible, and should engage with natural history museums to ensure these specimens are properly preserved and accessible to future generations of researchers. • Natural history museums need to be more involved in Arctic science discussions to raise awareness and increase usage of their collections, and should engage with researchers who require a permanent repository for their Arctic collections. Arctic Natural History Collections This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. ARCTIC SCIENCE SUMMIT WEEK AND ARCTIC OBSERVING SUMMIT, FAIRBANKS, ALASKA – MARCH 2016 © M. Lipman Age Profile of Canadian Arctic Natural History Collections Arctic Natural History Museum Alliance Arctic Policy and Arctic Natural History Museums • Online collections data from Canadian natural history collections provides strong evidence for a substantial decline in Arctic collecting since the 1960s. This trend needs to be reversed to understand Arctic biodiversity through time. • Although not all Canadian Arctic collections have been digitized and duplicate specimens housed at different institutions were not removed from the analyses, the observed patterns based on available data are likely robust. Global North American Arctic • The U.S.-Canada Joint Statement on Climate, Energy and Arctic Leadership (10 March 2016) calls on Arctic nations to embrace a new future for Arctic leadership, with one objective being conserving Arctic biodiversity through science-based decision making: “Canada and the U.S. re-affirm our national goals of protecting at least 17% of land areas and 10% of marine areas by 2020.” • In the Canadian Arctic only 11.7% of terrestrial and freshwater and 0.8% of marine territory are currently protected (Environment Canada 2016). • Biodiversity in existing and new Arctic protected areas needs to be comprehensively and systematically surveyed and documented by specimens, to establish a current and robust baseline of information, and the resultant specimens should be housed in permanent collections like the Canadian Museum of Nature and made accessible digitally, enabling researchers and the public to learn about – and value – the Arctic natural world. Michel Poulin, Canadian Museum of Nature, collecting sea ice algae in the Canadian High Arctic. Alan Macdonald in the large skeleton collection at the Canadian Museum of Nature. • The Arctic Natural History Museum Alliance, founded in 2013, comprises the national natural history museums of the eight Arctic Council states. The Alliance aims to work together to actively share their Arctic knowledge with the science community, public policy decision-makers and the general public, and is focussing on collections digitization, research contribution and collaboration, and impactful public programming and outreach. Institution Total specimens | Arctic specimens Canadian Museum of Nature 10.5 million | 1 million National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution 128 million | 151,000 Swedish Natural History Museum 10.1 million | ? Oslo Natural History Museum 6.2 million | ? Finnish Natural History Museum 13 million | ? Denmark Natural History Museum 14 million | ? Iceland Natural History Museum 1.5 million | 500,000 Zoological Institute, Russian Acad. of Sciences 60 million | ? Arctic Natural History Museum Alliance leadership: Jan Olov Westerberg, Director General, Swedish Natural History Museum; Meg Beckel, President and CEO, Canadian Museum of Nature; Kirk Johnson, Director, Smithsonian Natural History Museum and Mark Brzezinski, Executive Director, US Arctic Executive Steering Committee (holding a narwhal tooth). Image:MegBeckel©CanadianMuseumofNature There are far fewer natural history collections from the Arctic than from temperate and tropical areas, based on the ca. 118.5 million specimens records available from the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF). Many Arctic areas have not been inventoried. Dataretrieved8March2016 • The members of the Arctic Natural History Museum Alliance collectively house some 243 million specimens. The total number of Arctic collections in these institutions is not known, but likely represents a considerable proportion of the planet’s total Arctic collections. © M. Lipman Canadian Museum of Nature scientists collecting in the Canadian Arctic: Paul Hamilton (top) sampling freshwater algae, Kathy Conlan (middle) surveying benthic invertebrates, and Paul Sokoloff (bottom left) collecting plants. Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa Canadian Museum of Nature collections online (http://collections.nature.ca) Botany field camp in the Canadian Arctic. The Canadian Museum of Nature Arctic flora team makes some 1000 collections on each annual expedition. Age profile by decade of zoological collections from Northwest Territories and Nunavut at the Canadian Museum of Nature (n = 35,988). Age profile by decade of zoological collections Northwest Territories and Nunavut in numerous Canadian collections (not including CMN), accessed via Canadensys (n = 23,8976). ZOOLOGY COLLECTIONS • Collecting of zoological specimens from Northwest Territories and Nunavut peaked in the 1960s, declined slowly during the next two decades and then rapidly declined from 1981 onwards, based on Canadian Museum of Nature collection data. • The pattern is similar based on zoological specimens from Northwest Territories and Nunavut in numerous other Canadian institutions, except the peak was in the 1970s and the decline over the next 30 years was stronger. However, there was a substantial increase in collecting activity from 2010 onwards. P. Sokoloff © CMN J. Bastien © CMN © M. Lipman

Saarela, J.M. -Centre for Arctic Knowledge and Exploration, Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Poster presented at: Arctic Science Summit Week and Arctic Observing Summit, March 2016, Fairbanks, Alaska, U.S.A. Available from: http://www.arcticobservingsummit.org/aos-2016-poster-abstracts-public (accessed 4 May 2016). ABSTRACT: Changes in the diversity, distribution and ecology of species in the Arctic are predicted and/or already being documented in response to global change. Baseline biodiversity data from the past and present can provide critical points of reference in time and space for measuring change. Core components of biodiversity data are specimens in natural history collections. Natural history specimens are data themselves, documenting the distribution of species in time and space; they serve as vouchers for datasets, allowing future workers to go back to original material to confirm or revise identifications; and they are also sources of new data (morphology, anatomy, toxicology, genetic information, etc.). Biological specimens from the Arctic are a diverse, valuable and irreplaceable component of the polar information spectrum, yet Arctic specimens were collected more frequently in the past than they are today. Core functions of museums are the collection, long-term preservation, stewardship and curation of specimens, and facilitating access to these specimens, both physically and digitally. The Canadian Museum of Nature, founding member of the international Arctic Natural History Museums Alliance, houses the largest – and continually growing – collection of natural history specimens from the Canadian Arctic, with ca. 260K Arctic specimens (including >550 type specimens). Arctic Observing programs on biodiversity should document field observations with specimens whenever possible, and should engage with natural history museums to ensure these specimens are properly preserved and accessible to future generations of researchers. Reciprocally, natural history museums should be more involved in Arctic science discussions to raise awareness and increase usage of their rich collections-based resources, and should engage with researchers who require a permanent repository for their Arctic field collections.

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