And this is where stewards of Natural History Collections can relate. They must not only be able to meet the needs current scientists working on our earth's biodiversity, but also forecast and prepare for the scientists of the future. In fact, sometimes its the stuff that you unintentionally get in the field collecting, solely by chance because it catches your eye, that can be the most valuable to others. You throw the specimen in your bag, process it, and then incorporate in to the collection as part of your field expedition of a particular area's diversity. Thirty years later, a scientist working on a particular group will find that specimen in the collection, and discover that it is the only record of the thing existing in that part of the world, and they can finally finish their study or thesis. Unfortunately that may not be the case for a head-massage-instrument, unless you consider your house a museum and the scientist some person on Ebay, just waiting for you to post it!
My PhD dissertation work, as with many people working in taxonomy, relies on this forward thinking for specimens that I can't actually collect myself. As a case in point, part of my thesis work included working on plant-bugs (Miridae) that are from Papua New Guinea and the Indo-Pacific. Most of the diversity was known from the island, including some of the most bizarre body forms for mimicking ants. Swollen heads to mimic the swollen heads of ants, constricted wings and abdomens to mimic the distinctive ant petiole (waist). Very unique and fascinating bugs.
|One of the more odd bugs from my group|
Most of that material then was looked at again with my research, here in the twenty-first century. This time, however, there was the added benefit that the Belgian Museum had started a new wave of survey work on the islands. I was able not only to find several of the species that Dr. Schuh had already described, but several new ones they had collected over the past ten years. Many of those new species the Belgians collected had new body forms that helped explain the shapes of the already-described species. Their work allowed for me to fill in the missing gaps about how some of the weirdest body forms of my insects evolved, even from afar.
Therefore, if it wasn't for the fore-thought and care of natural history collections, I would not have been able to do my thesis, or become the scientist I am today. Every day I am thankful for people like Tardigrada and our other collection assistants that help us keep the collections what they are today, and allow us to continue to study the things we love. So, even over the holidays as the various wanted and unwanted gifts pile up, I can at least be thankful that one the best gifts I've ever received will still be there: our collections.