By Paul Larson
The culture of modern science is tending more and more toward open access to raw data. Just as it is good practice (and often required) to deposit DNA sequences in GenBank before publishing findings or to deposit phylogenetic results in TreeBASE, these studies and ecological studies that rely on species identification should be producing voucher specimens to be stored in collections like the one in Specimen Information Services here at FWRI. Through these collections, we may reinterpret or validate old results with modern methods, observe changes in species and populations through time, and leverage emerging technologies to extract new data from the past without the need for a time machine.
Through the 1980s, 90s, and 2000s, several research projects conducted by Mike Robblee and colleagues in the Everglades and Biscayne National Parks yielded tens of thousands of fish and decapod crustacean specimens, all of which were retained by the National Park Service South Florida Collections Management Center. These specimens had been stored in bags contained by approximately 230 3-gallon buckets. Former SIS curator Dr. Robert Lasley secured a $95,000 grant from the National Parks Service to properly curate and maintain a subset of these specimens in SIS to serve as vouchers for those projects and to provide training opportunities for employees, students, and recent graduates in all aspects of stewardship of natural history collections.
The project is a multi-step process. Currently, we have two part-time employees and a small army of interns producing an inventory of the bucket contents and re-housing the specimens in archival containers. Next, we will develop a retention plan to select a subset of the specimens to be maintained as vouchers indefinitely within the collections here at FWRI. This retention strategy will be guided by the goals of the NPS, SIS, and the original research and monitoring projects. Finally, we will catalog the retained specimens and determine a fate for those specimens not to be retained (discard, donation, etc.).
Upon completion, this accession will serve as a resource for future investigations and as an archived documentation of the data collected in the course of the projects which have yielded these samples.