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      Why vouchers matter in botanical research 1

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      Applications in Plant Sciences

      Botanical Society of America

      climate change, herbarium specimen, taxa, taxon, taxonomy, voucher

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          Abstract

          What is a voucher and why is it important in research? As a preserved specimen of an identified taxon deposited in a permanent and accessible storage facility, the voucher serves as the supporting material for published studies of the taxon and ensures that the science is repeatable. Vouchers are crucial in authenticating the taxonomy of an organism, as a tool for identifying localities of the taxon, and for additional taxonomic, genetic, ecological, and/or environmental research.

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          Most cited references 40

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          Cryptic invasion by a non-native genotype of the common reed, Phragmites australis, into North America.

          Cryptic invasions are a largely unrecognized type of biological invasion that lead to underestimation of the total numbers and impacts of invaders because of the difficulty in detecting them. The distribution and abundance of Phragmites australis in North America has increased dramatically over the past 150 years. This research tests the hypothesis that a non-native strain of Phragmites is responsible for the observed spread. Two noncoding chloroplast DNA regions were sequenced for samples collected worldwide, throughout the range of Phragmites. Modern North American populations were compared with historical ones from herbarium collections. Results indicate that an introduction has occurred, and the introduced type has displaced native types as well as expanded to regions previously not known to have Phragmites. Native types apparently have disappeared from New England and, while still present, may be threatened in other parts of North America.
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            Back to the future: museum specimens in population genetics.

            Museums and other natural history collections (NHC) worldwide house millions of specimens. With the advent of molecular genetic approaches these collections have become the source of many fascinating population studies in conservation genetics that contrast historical with present-day genetic diversity. Recent developments in molecular genetics and genomics and the associated statistical tools have opened up the further possibility of studying evolutionary change directly. As we discuss here, we believe that NHC specimens provide a largely underutilized resource for such investigations. However, because DNA extracted from NHC samples is degraded, analyses of such samples are technically demanding and many potential pitfalls exist. Thus, we propose a set of guidelines that outline the steps necessary to begin genetic investigations using specimens from NHC.
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              Biological collections and ecological/environmental research: a review, some observations and a look to the future.

              Housed worldwide, mostly in museums and herbaria, is a vast collection of biological specimens developed over centuries. These biological collections, and associated taxonomic and systematic research, have received considerable long-term public support. The work remaining in systematics has been expanding as the estimated total number of species of organisms on Earth has risen over recent decades, as have estimated numbers of undescribed species. Despite this increasing task, support for taxonomic and systematic research, and biological collections upon which such research is based, has declined over the last 30-40 years, while other areas of biological research have grown considerably, especially those that focus on environmental issues. Reflecting increases in research that deals with ecological questions (e.g. what determines species distribution and abundance) or environmental issues (e.g. toxic pollution), the level of research attempting to use biological collections in museums or herbaria in an ecological/environmental context has risen dramatically during about the last 20 years. The perceived relevance of biological collections, and hence the support they receive, should be enhanced if this trend continues and they are used prominently regarding such environmental issues as anthropogenic loss of biodiversity and associated ecosystem function, global climate change, and decay of the epidemiological environment. It is unclear, however, how best to use biological collections in the context of such ecological/environmental issues or how best to manage collections to facilitate such use. We demonstrate considerable and increasingly realized potential for research based on biological collections to contribute to ecological/environmental understanding. However, because biological collections were not originally intended for use regarding such issues and have inherent biases and limitations, they are proving more useful in some contexts than in others. Biological collections have, for example, been particularly useful as sources of information regarding variation in attributes of individuals (e.g. morphology, chemical composition) in relation to environmental variables, and provided important information in relation to species' distributions, but less useful in the contexts of habitat associations and population sizes. Changes to policies, strategies and procedures associated with biological collections could mitigate these biases and limitations, and hence make such collections more useful in the context of ecological/environmental issues. Haphazard and opportunistic collecting could be replaced with strategies for adding to existing collections that prioritize projects that use biological collections and include, besides taxonomy and systematics, a focus on significant environmental/ecological issues. Other potential changes include increased recording of the nature and extent of collecting effort and information associated with each specimen such as nearby habitat and other individuals observed but not collected. Such changes have begun to occur within some institutions. Institutions that house biological collections should, we think, pursue a mission of 'understanding the life of the planet to inform its stewardship' (Krishtalka & Humphrey, 2000), as such a mission would facilitate increased use of biological collections in an ecological/environmental context and hence lead to increased appreciation, encouragement and support from the public for these collections, their associated research, and the institutions that house them.
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                Author and article information

                Contributors
                Role: Editor-in-Chief, Applications in Plant Sciences
                Journal
                Appl Plant Sci
                Appl Plant Sci
                apps
                Applications in Plant Sciences
                Botanical Society of America
                2168-0450
                November 2013
                29 October 2013
                : 1
                : 11
                Affiliations
                Department of Biological Sciences, University of Cincinnati, 614 Rieveschl Hall, Cincinnati, Ohio 45221-0006 USA
                Author notes
                [1]

                The author thanks the many people who contributed ideas and suggestions for this paper, most notably the many helpful members of the HERBARIA listserve, especially R. Dolan, D. Jolles, L. McDade, and N. Snow. The author is also grateful to A. Avanesyan, F. Cartieri, M. Cruzan, R. Dolan, L. McDade, A. McPherson, B. Parada, P. Soltis, D. Spooner, E. Tepe, L. Wallace, and members of the APPS editorial board for critically reviewing the paper.

                Article
                apps1300076
                10.3732/apps.1300076
                4103463
                © 2013 Culley. Published by the Botanical Society of America

                This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License (CC-BY-NC-SA).

                Categories
                Editorial

                climate change, herbarium specimen, taxa, taxon, taxonomy, voucher

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