Tag Archives: museums

The global museum

A recent review paper gives an overview of the current state and some thoughts about the future of natural history museums. Something a bit different than Neotropical land snails as such, but still containing interesting information and thoughts.

“Natural history museums are unique spaces for interdisciplinary research and educational innovation. Through extensive exhibits and public programming and by hosting rich communities of amateurs, students, and researchers at all stages of their careers, they can provide a place-based window to focus on integration of science and discovery, as well as a locus for community engagement. At the same time, like a synthesis radio telescope, when joined together through emerging digital resources, the global community of museums (the ‘Global Museum’) is more than the sum of its parts, allowing insights and answers to diverse biological, environmental, and societal questions at the global scale, across eons of time, and spanning vast diversity across the Tree of Life. We argue that, whereas natural history collections and museums began with a focus on describing the diversity and peculiarities of species on Earth, they are now increasingly leveraged in new ways that significantly expand their impact and relevance. These new directions include the possibility to ask new, often interdisciplinary questions in basic and applied science, such as in biomimetic design, and by contributing to solutions to climate change, global health and food security challenges. As institutions, they have long been incubators for cutting-edge research in biology while simultaneously providing core infrastructure for research on present and future societal needs. Here we explore how the intersection between pressing issues in environmental and human health and rapid technological innovation have reinforced the relevance of museum collections. We do this by providing examples as food for thought for both the broader academic community and museum scientists on the evolving role of museums. We also identify challenges to the realization of the full potential of natural history collections and the Global Museum to science and society and discuss the critical need to grow these collections. We then focus on mapping and modelling of museum data (including place-based approaches and discovery), and explore the main projects, platforms and databases enabling this growth. Finally, we aim to improve relevant protocols for the long-term storage of specimens and tissues, ensuring proper connection with tomorrow’s technologies and hence further increasing the relevance of natural history museums.”

global museum

This review highlights the following topics: collections and types of museums, with examples of civic science; distribution, redundancy and digitisation of collections; the value and diversity of biological specimens; specimens versus observations in digital collections; the need for continued and comprehensive collection; place-based discovery and education; increasing the relevance of museums and public perception; and,  integrated analysis of museum specimens for evolutionary biology.

Bakker, F.T. et al., 2020. The Global Museum: natural history collections and the future of evolutionary science and public education. PeerJ 8:e8225.

The destruction of the museum in Rio de Janeiro

During my holidays I was shocked when I learned that the Museu Nacional in Rio de Janeiro burnt down completely.


While I reported earlier that an inventory of molluscan type material had been published, this may be hardly considered as a relief. Indeed we know what has been lost, but the loss is not replaceable as such. Of course, in some cases neotypes may be selected, but that is only a practical solution in specific situations. The loss of scientific material of all kinds (besides natural history this museum also had important holdings for other disciplines) and the destruction of this historical building is a sad event for Brazil and Brazilian scientists.


Molluscs in the news

Two news items came to my attention today. The first has been taken from the Conch-L list and is about conservation of Florida land snails. “Florida Fish and Wildlife [Conservation Commission] has just sent out a posting regarding endangered and threatened species. There are two proposed rulings on Tree snails. The one  is Liguus and the other is Orthalicus. Here is the Liguus and other species  link. http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/imperiled/species-action-plans/”. Only Liguus fasciatus is mentioned, together with more than 50 species of other phyla.

Liguus Florida

The ‘Science in the news’ site had an item on natural history museums and how these institutions, behind the scenes, are centers of cutting-edge research. One example is the recent discovery of a Plekocheilus species, collected back in the 1800s. More brushing off the dust than cutting the edge, but anyway…

Paris types

For the past 1.5 week I’ve been working (not to say being immersed) in the Paris museum. Quite a historical setting, in buildings across the street of Jardin des Plantes, the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle was founded in 1793.

In this building the malacological section is housed, and this is the place where Philippe Bouchet leads his team expanding the collection through many expeditions around the world (mainly marine). I had a chat with him about several things and one topic we discussed was the number and role of taxonomists. The number of taxonomists is now expanding largely outside Europe and the USA, and the role of taxonomists is undoubtedly changing within science. Permanent staff is spending its time more and more to ‘top research’ (as perceived by those who manage them or as pushed as such in publicity). Therefore the main body of taxonomic work is gradually left to volunteers and so-called ‘amateurs’. In this respect, there is not much difference between France and Holland.

The type collection is in an attic room and it looks at least quite vulnerable, despite a number of fire resistant doors dividing the space. The non-type material is in an underground building (type ‘bunker’), which is not a pleasant place to spend your day. For Neotropical land snails the place is still one of the heavens on earth, with many historical material e.g. from Férussac, Deshayes, d’Orbigny, Crosse etc. Also the unsorted remainders from 19th century expeditions are stored here, although much effort has been put to sort the material out and integrate this in the systematically arranged collection.

Most of my time I spent on the attic, working my way through the type material and taking data and photographs. More than 230 taxa recognized, considerable more than in my paper from the 1970s.
Thanks to my host Virgenie Héros who made every effort to make my mission easier.

Types in MZSP

Type material is the foundation for taxonomical work and publications on the inventory of museum collections are therefore good additions to the taxonomist’s toolbox.

Yesterday a new paper was published listing all type material in the Museu de Zoolog??a, Universidade de S??o Paulo, Sao Paulo, Brazil (Dornellas & Simone, 2011).

Simone has published a hallmark book on the land and freshwater molluscs from Brazil some years ago, illustrating as much as possible the primary types of species. Thus this annotated list simply refers to many figures in this book and the illustrations in this paper are mainly on types of marine species.
Besides primary types (holo-, para-, and syntypes), this list also present some secondary types (e.g. topotypes). There is an index to authors as well as a systematically arranged list of species.

The paper may be freely downloaded at http://www.mz.usp.br/AZ42A01.pdf.
Dornellas, A.P.S. & Simone, L.R.L., 2011. Annotated list of type specimens of mollusks deposited in the Museu de Zoologia da Universidade de S??o Paulo, Brazil. – Arquivos de Zoologia 42: 1-81.