Biological collections for understanding biodiversity in the Anthropocene
Published Web Locationhttps://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2017.0386
Global change has become a central focus of modern biology. Yet, our knowledge of how anthropogenic drivers affect biodiversity and natural resources is limited by a lack of biological data spanning the Anthropocene. We propose that the hundreds of millions of plant, fungal and animal specimens deposited in natural history museums have the potential to transform the field of global change biology. We suggest that museum specimens are underused, particularly in ecological studies, given their capacity to reveal patterns that are not observable from other data sources. Increasingly, museum specimens are becoming mobilized online, providing unparalleled access to physiological, ecological and evolutionary data spanning decades and sometimes centuries. Here, we describe the diversity of collections data archived in museums and provide an overview of the diverse uses and applications of these data as discussed in the accompanying collection of papers within this theme issue. As these unparalleled resources are under threat owing to budget cuts and other institutional pressures, we aim to shed light on the unique discoveries that are possible in museums and, thus, the singular value of natural history collections in a period of rapid change.This article is part of the theme issue 'Biological collections for understanding biodiversity in the Anthropocene'.