When botanists began collecting plant samples for herbaria more than a century ago, their goal was to catalog and understand the diversity of the natural world. These days scientists use the collections to understand the transformative effects of climate change.
The issue, says Barnabas Daru, is that the collections are a flawed fit for that use.
Daru, a postdoctoral fellow in organismic and evolutionary biology working in collaboration with Charles Davis, a professor in the same field and director of the Harvard University Herbaria, is the lead author of a study published in New Phytologist that points to sampling biases in a number of herbarium collections around the world. He suggests that those biases must be taken into consideration by researchers focused on climate change.
“These specimens are becoming the gold standard for addressing questions related to climate change, ecology, and niche modeling,” Daru said. “But these data were not initially collected for those purposes, so the goal for our study was to evaluate these biases to facilitate downstream research.”