As articles in BioScience, other scientific journals, and the popular news media have reported in recent years, natural history collections and the researchers that utilize them have faced some tough times due to constricting budgets. According to many in the natural history community, responding to this challenge has been hindered by the lack of a cohesive natural history collections community in the United States.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a Research Coordination Network (RCN) grant to contribute to the development of the natural history collections community in the United States. “A stronger community will facilitate research by providing better lines of communication between collections managers and researchers, and establishing improved mechanisms for access to specimens and specimen data,” said L. Alan Prather, curator of the herbarium at Michigan State University and one of the principal investigators for the grant. To achieve the goals of the RCN, the funding will provide a number of web resources for the collections community, a series of workshops and symposia dealing with issues of importance relating to collections, and several student internships.
To share information and facilitate the work of the RCN, a new web site, www.CollectionsWeb.org, has recently been launched. The site provides an overview of the project, will announce upcoming workshops and symposia, and will provide a link to community-wide resources.
The initial members of the steering committee guiding the RCN’s efforts, are Henry L. Bart (Tulane University, vertebrate systematics), Meredith Blackwell (Louisiana State University, fungal systematics), L. Alan Prather (Michigan State University, plant systematics) and James B. Woolley (Texas A&M University, invertebrate systematics). These individuals represent an array of institutions, taxonomic specialties and methodologies and bring together a diverse set of skills to help facilitate this RCN. Thirteen additional core participants have been added and more will be chosen in the near future.
Three Partner Societies have been involved with the RCN since the planning stages. These societies are the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS), the Natural Science Collections Alliance (NSC Alliance), and the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections (SPNHC).
As described on the CollectionsWeb.org site, AIBS will “help organize the Stakeholders workshop, where their formal ties to other societies, as well as their role in policy and connections with governmental and non-governmental agencies will prove especially valuable.” The NSC Alliance “is an association that supports natural science collections, their human resources, the institutions that house them, and their research activities for the benefit of science and society. The role of the NSCA in the RCN is to co-organize the Databases Workshop, host a symposium at an annual meeting, and help design and implement some of the online resources that the RCN will develop.” Finally, SPNHC will host a symposium at an annual meeting dealing with best practices, establish a Best Practices Working Group, and oversee the best practices student interns.”
Other Participating Societies, mostly taxon-based professional societies, also play an important role in bringing together people involved with natural history collections across many disciplines. These organizations include: American Malacological Society; American Ornithologists’ Union; American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists; American Society of Parasitologists; American Society of Plant Taxonomists; Botanical Society of America; Entomology Collections Network; Entomological Society of America; Mycological Society of America; North American Benthological Society; Phycological Society of America; and the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.
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