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Why Collections Matter

Our ability to understand the natural world depends on the collection, preservation, and ongoing study of natural history specimens. These collections are the physical record of Earth’s life forms and processes.

The study of natural science collections allows us to forecast the future of the planet – information that profoundly affects our lives.

Collections and their Impact

Economy and trade:

Many regulatory decisions made by governments are supported by research that depends on scientific collections, including natural history collections. These decisions can have a major impact on foreign and domestic trade.

Changes over time:

Worldwide, museums, universities, and other institutions have been amassing collections since the 17th Century. By analyzing specimens collected at different points in time, researchers can reconstruct important historical changes. Collections offer scientists a window on the past.

Environmental Quality:

Collections document the condition of soil, air, and water, help track pollution, and enable us to model future environmental changes so they can be better managed.

Food and agriculture:

Scientific collections of agricultural pests and other threats to food safety and security are used routinely for border inspection, consumer protection, and control measures.

Public Health and Safety:

Whether they are used to track down the cause of a deadly new epidemic or to learn important lessons from an ancient one, collections are pivotal resources in the fight to save lives and to improve the health and safety of people around the world.

National Security:

Research on collections is a critical part of developing strategies for defending agriculture and food against terrorist attacks, major disasters, and other emergencies.

Invasive Species:

The easy movement of trade goods through ports is vital to the global economy. At the same time, invasive species that stow away with these goods can threaten our crops, ecosystems, and animal and human health. In the United States there are estimated to be over 50,000 invasive species; collectively, they cause nearly $120 billion worth of environmental damage and loss per year and can spread infectious diseases to animal and human populations.

Scientific Treasures:

Many scientific collections contain unique objects that cannot be collected again easily – or at all, in some cases. They are priceless.

Unanticipated Uses / New data:

Collections of objects often serve us in ways that could not have been imagined at the time when they were made. Sometimes these unanticipated uses can help solve today’s most pressing scientific problems. Likewise, years, even decades from now, new analytical techniques will allow researchers to use the same specimens to answer new questions.