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The Decline of Plant Collecting in the United States: A Threat to the Infrastructure of Biodiversity Studies

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Collections of plant specimens are the basic infrastructure for all studies of plant diversity, but there is concern that plant collecting is in decline. We acquired collection data from a diverse sample of 71 herbaria to test whether there is a decrease in rates of local collecting in the United States. The recorded data were the decade of collection for all specimens of nine exemplar genera from the local region of the herbarium. All analyses showed evidence of a decline in local collecting. We found that the temporal pattern of collecting varied considerably from herbarium to herbarium, but that more herbaria showed a decreasing trend than an increasing trend. The total accumulation of specimens is in decline and only 21% of the sampled herbaria reached their peaks in local collecting activity in the last 20 years. Furthermore, two thirds of the herbaria acquired fewer locally-collected specimens in the last two decades than in the prior two. These trends were consistent over all size classes of herbaria and over herbaria from all regions, though they were less severe in the Mountain region herbaria. Tests for bias indicated that our sample of herbaria was more active than typical, thus our conclusions should be considered a conservative estimate of decline.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2004-01-01

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