The Manitoba Museum
Prairie Pollination – The Manitoba Museum’s Collection Vault
Dr. Diana Bizecki Robson, Curator of Botany, and Melissa Pearn, Curatorial Assistant, The Manitoba Museum.
Today I get to go someplace where very few people are allowed: the Manitoba Museum’s Natural History Collections Vault.
With me here is the Museum’s botanist, Dr. Diana Robson. Dr. Robson, what kinds of things are stored in this vault?
Well, among other things, it’s where we store all of the plant and insect specimens that museum curators and other scientists collect when they do fieldwork.
So why are these specimens collected?
Well, there are a number of different reasons. For starters, it’s a way for a scientist to prove that they actually saw what they did when they were in the field. It’s also extremely difficult to identify certain organisms without looking at them under a microscope, particularly insects, so you pretty much have to collect a specimen if you want to know what species you were observing when you were in the field. Collecting specimens is also a way that you can share your specimens with other researchers who may be studying the same groups of organisms.
So how could these specimens help to solve real-world problems?
Well, specimens are used in all sorts of ways to understand how organisms move through space and through time. So, one good example is that specimens have been used to track the spread of exotic species. We’ve also been able to track diseases like West Nile and how they’ve actually been transmitted by animals. Specimens are also used to document climate change. In fact, one of the ways that we first knew that the climate was changing was by the observation that plants in the past were flowering about two weeks later than plants nowadays, indicating that it’s warming up more in the spring. These specimens can also be used to determine if an organism is becoming rarer over time and potentially in need of some conservation or protection.
So how do you determine when a species is becoming rarer?
Well, specimens have been collected for hundreds of years now and we know exactly where each organism was collected. So if you want to know if a species is becoming rare, you can simply go out to the location where it had been found in the past and see if the organism is still living there. If it’s not, if the habitat has been converted into a parking lot or an oil well or a farmer’s field, then you know that it’s become rarer over time.
Thank you, Dr. Robson.