48 hours to find a new place

Administrators at a Louisiana university are busy sweeping away pesky useless shit like scientific specimens to make room for athletic facilities.

The curators of the Museum of Natural History at the University of Louisiana-Monroe got grim news last week from the school’s director: The museum’s research collection had to be moved out of its current home. The reason? The space was needed for expanded track facilities.

The curators were given 48 hours to find a new place on campus to store the collection — something they weren’t able to do. Now they must get another institution to take their several million specimens. Their hard deadline is July, when the track renovations are slated to begin. And if the collection isn’t moved by then, curators said, it will be destroyed.

Making America great again, eh? Less emphasis on research and education, and more on racing around in a circle.

The ULM collection includes some 6 million fish collected by ULM ichthyologist Neil Douglas, one of the leading experts on the fish of Louisiana, as well as half a million native plants. It is an important record of biodiversity in northern Louisiana — a region that stands to see significant environmental impacts as a result of climate change.

Robert Gropp, co-executive director of the American Institute of Biological Sciences and policy director for the Natural Science Collections Alliance, said that smaller collections like this one offer unmatched insight into the history and fate of specific ecosystems.

“Sometimes those collections might be the world-class collection for that specific geographic area because that’s where those researchers spent their careers collecting specimens,” he said. “They’re snapshots of the history, of the genetics and biodiversity, and what lived where and how they interacted. You can’t go back and collect those again.”

Oh who cares; the university will have better running facilities! That’s the important thing. Won’t somebody please think of the athletes?

These research specimens — and the curators who study them — have immense scientific value, said Larry Page, a curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History. They are the basis for almost all taxonomic research and are vital to understanding changes in the health and distribution of species. Collections-based research has resulted in the discovery of new species and has helped save creatures on the brink of extinction.

“In a period of rapid changes in the environment and climate, specimens in natural history collections serve as the benchmark for gauging the impact,” Page wrote in an email. “The loss of such large and valuable collections as those at the University of Louisiana at Monroe would be a tremendous tragedy to science.”

It’s rare for a collection to be thrown out entirely; another institution usually steps in to save it. Already, several institutions have offered the ULM museum help in relocating its collection.

But Gropp, the American Institute of Biological Sciences co-director, noted that consolidation of collections means more and more specimens are being studied and cared for by fewer people with fewer resources.

“The system as a whole is being stressed,” he said.

Even if the collection is saved, the people who were studying it won’t go with it.

8 Responses to “48 hours to find a new place”