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Importance of Natural History Museums

Most people think that museums only house arts and anthropological exhibits, for the most part. Moreover, there is the thinking that museums are for nerds and elites. This leads to the image of museums to be only date spots, or a place to pass time. All of these, nevertheless, are close-minded beliefs. Museums are for the public and house more than what most know. There are different divisions to a museum that cover different aspects of our world, which are ultimately unique and fascinating.

There is the natural history museum that is home to zoological, botanical and geological collections. The oldest natural history museum established in Paris in 1635 was the template of all that we recognize as the natural history museums of today. It is the precursor of our scientific knowledge of animals both living and extinct. Given the importance of natural history museums, the value of specimen collection in documenting historical and modern patterns of life on earth is critical. The impact it has on us is immense, giving us an insight into the different animals that have existed before or are still living today.

The historical records in museums provide a baseline for biodiversity studies. We use these to track temporal and geographic changes in species communities, correlating these observations with human-related or natural changes in the environment, such as climate change and pollution. With an estimated 2-4 billion specimen stored in natural history collections worldwide, the irreplaceable records of past biodiversity and museum specimens emerged as key indicators of anthropogenic impacts on environmental conditions. In addition, these museum specimens are also essential for making informed decisions about species management and conservation now and in the future.

Over time, specimens become more valuable and priceless. However, every now and then, we often hear news of animals and plants declared extinct. The good thing is that humans have recorded the existence of these specimens before they disappear permanently. However, there are already extinct plants and animals that we were unable to keep a record of because there are no more live specimens to study.

The fast progress of technology today gives scientists the chance to newer and more in-depth kinds of information about a certain species, the environment and the ecosystem in a place and time. Any data that was lost in history can now be unlocked and examined again from museum collections. Due to recent technological advances, decade-old scientific specimens had undergone genetic analysis resulting in new species identification or even have “de-extinct” a certain species previously thought extinct.

As a museum taxonomist, I collect and identify specific marine invertebrates from all over the Philippines. It is used for scientific research, enhancement of specimen collections, for museum exhibits, and for storage at our collections area. With 7,641 islands to cover for scientific study, recording all the details of the collected specimens at the field site are all-important. The specimens I collected represent a baseline to guide conservation, restoration, and species-replacement efforts. It also serves as material for research on species distribution and evolution.

We collect to study. We do not contribute to the extinction of animals. Scientists collect specimens that are detrimental in understanding our biodiversity. Making this available for future generations of scientists, which will allow their study using research methods that are yet to be invented. Globally, natural history museums should always establish – collaboration, share expertise, specimen information and continuous training of people that will cater to the modern times.

Natural History Museums are indeed important scientific institutions mandated to explore, curate, study and disseminate its findings to the masses. It will stay again for another 100 years documenting and exploring the vast unexplored parts of our planet.

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