The role of natural history collections data in documenting the biological and geological diversity of the Arctic, with examples from the Canadian Museum of Nature

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ABSTRACT: Core functions of museums are the collection, long-term preservation, stewardship and curation of specimens, facilitating access to these specimens – physically and digitally – for research purposes, and engaging and educating the public about the world around them. Biological and geological specimens from the Arctic and their associated collection data are a diverse, important and increasingly valuable component of the polar information spectrum. Natural history specimens are data themselves, documenting the distribution of species in time and space; they serve as vouchers for datasets, allowing future workers to go back to original material to confirm or revise identifications; and they are also sources of new data (morphology, anatomy, toxicology, genetic information). The development of international standards (e.g., the Darwin Core) and best practices to facilitate interoperability and sharing of biodiversity occurrence data has allowed institutions to easily share their collection data on their own websites, and through national, regional and international indexing portals such as the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF). This successful example of data management and interoperability could serve as a model for the polar community. The research and public outreach potential of Arctic collections data is enormous, but a challenge that many natural history museums are facing is the massive task of databasing and imaging the collection so that it may be mobilized, discovered, shared and used. The Canadian Museum of Nature, founding member of the international Arctic Natural History Museums Alliance, houses the largest – and continually growing – collection of natural history specimens from the Canadian Arctic, with ca. 260K Arctic specimens (including >550 type specimens). Some 154K of our specimens from north of 60 degrees are digitized and freely accessible online ( and shared through GBIF. Natural history museums need to be more involved in Arctic science discussions to raise awareness and increase usage of their rich data resources. Available from: (accessed 4 May 2016). CC BY-NC 4.0
  • 1. Centre for Arctic Knowledge and Exploration The role of natural history collections data in documenting the biological and geological diversity of the Arctic, with examples from the Canadian Museum of Nature Jeffery M. Saarela & Shannon Ascensio
  • 2. Anceta Wis CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikipedia Amanda CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikipedia Stephantom CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikipedia
  • 3. Image: RealGrouchy, Public Domain
  • 4. PLoS Biol 11(1): e1001466. CC BY 2.5 François Génier © Canadian Museum of Nature Collections are the Core Specimens have many uses and are irreplaceable
  • 5. Sokoloff Natural Heritage Campus o >10 million specimens o 3.2 million catalogable specimens o 260,000 Arctic specimens
  • 6. Early Exploration of the Canadian Arctic Sir William Parry Expedition – 1819-1820 Image: R. Higgitt, Herbarium, Royal Botanical Garden, Edinburgh John Franklin's overland expeditions Images: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London 1819-1822 1825-1827
  • 7. CMC Canadian Arctic Expedition, 1913–1918 Canadian Museum of History Khidas 2015, Arctic King eiders
  • 8. Centre for Arctic Knowledge and Exploration collections-based research Arctic Botany Arctic Mineralogy Arctic Phycology Arctic Zoology Arctic Palaeobiology
  • 9. Eocene Epoch 55-33 Mya Today MarianneDouglas©MarianneDouglas Image: Bob Hynes © Smithsonian Institution AnsgarWalkCCBY-SA2.5viaWikipedia Fossil forest - Axel Heiberg Island ca. 45 Mya Arctic Palaeontology
  • 10. Images: Roger Bull © Canadian Museum of Nature Ted Daeschler © T. Daeschler/VIREO Eduard Sola CC BY-SA Kennonv CC BY-SA 3.0 Tiktaalik roseae 375 Mya fossil fish with a mix of fish & amphibian traits
  • 11. ~3.5 Mya Rybcynski et al. 2013, Nature Communications Image: Algkav and Dr. Blofeld based on original by Yug, CC BY-SA 3.0Images: Martin Lipman © Martin Lipman Image: Julius Csotonyi © Julius Csotonyi Giant Ancient Camel Tibia fragments
  • 12. Donald McAllister (1934-2001) Arctic Fishes Arctic Marine Fishes of Canada …a new book coming 2016 Lake Trout
  • 13. CMN bird specimens from Foxe Basin Holotype: Arctic peregrine falcon (CMNAV 46581) Arctic Birds Bird nest collection
  • 14. Martin Lipman © Canadian Museum of Nature Large Skeleton Collection Mitochondrial DNA diversity in bowhead whales of the Central Canadian Arctic McLeod et al. 2012, Marine Mammal Science 28:E426
  • 15. Arctic Plants & Algae Moonwort (Botrychium tunux) National Herbarium of Canada (CAN) Joe Holmes © Canadian Museum of Nature
  • 16. Googl Databased CAN and DAO northern specimens
  • 17. Collections have collection information
  • 18. Darwin Core: A standard for sharing data about biodiversity Wieczorek J, Bloom D, Guralnick R, Blum S, Döring M, et al. (2012) Darwin Core: An Evolving Community-Developed Biodiversity Data Standard. PLoS ONE 7(1): e29715. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0029715
  • 19. Darwin Core Categories: Simple Darwin Core is comprised of seven categories of terms (green) Wieczorek J, Bloom D, Guralnick R, Blum S, Döring M, et al. (2012) Darwin Core: An Evolving Community-Developed Biodiversity Data Standard. PLoS ONE 7(1): e29715. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0029715
  • 20. www.collections. CMN Collections Online 154K of 260K Arctic specimens online
  • 21.
  • 22. Canadensys – network of Canadian collections 2,900,783 records (showing 2,205,724 georeferenced)
  • 23. Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) – half a billion specimens and observation records
  • 24. GBIF – Specimens and Observations
  • 25. GBIF – Observations
  • 26. GBIF – Specimens
  • 27. Challenges Complete digitization @ CMN • ca. 260K Arctic/Northern specimens • ca. 154K of our specimens from north of 60 digitized and freely accessible online • >100K specimens are NOT yet digitized Complete high-resolution imaging • Only a very small fraction of the Arctic collection is currently imaged Examples: • just 15 of >17,000 Nunavut bird records imaged (<0.1%) • of >25K vascular plant specimens from Nunavut, only 3000 (12%) imaged • no Arctic zoology (fish, invertebrate, crustacean, insect, mammal) are imaged
  • 28. European collections rising to the challenge Large-scale data capture & digitisation in France, Netherlands & Finland Slide courtesy V. Smith, CC BY-NC-SA
  • 29. Crowdsourcing
  • 30. Arctic Natural History Museums Alliance “National natural-history museums need to step up and actively share our knowledge of the Arctic regions and to be more ambitious in our sharing of that knowledge with scientific colleagues, public-policy decision-makers and the general public.” -- Meg Beckel, CEO, Canadian Museum of Nature • Canadian Museum of Nature • National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution • Swedish Museum of Natural History • Natural History Museum, University of Oslo • Finnish Museum of Natural History • Icelandic Institute of Natural History • Natural History Museum of Denmark • Zoological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences
  • 31. The Future of the Arctic Specimens are critical to document change Specimens Museums Researchers
  • 32. Before they’re gone... Eskimo Curlew Photo: D. Bleitz, Galveston Island, 1962 Great Auk 1 of ca. 78 known skins Photo: M. Pennington, CC BY-SA 2.0 Labrador Duck only 55 specimens Photo: R. Somma, CC BY-SA 2.0
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