Institutional Differences in the Stewardship and Research Output of United States Herbaria

Abstract

Public policy decisions regarding institutional frameworks that govern the stewardship of biodiversity data at public and private institutions are an area of increasing importance. Museums, government agencies, and academic institutions across the United States maintain collections of biological specimens and information critical to scientific discovery. One subset of these natural history collections are herbaria, or collections of preserved plant matter and their associated data. In this study, I evaluate the current state of the digitization and databasing of herbariums contributing data to the SEInet Regional Network of North American Herbaria, and assess the impact of characteristics, particularly institution type (cultural sector institutions, public universities, private universities, or public land institutions), on the metrics of herbaria richness, digitization, and research usage. The results of this study suggest that institution type is significantly associated with the size, diversity, and digitization efforts of a herbarium collection. Specifically, cultural sector institutions tend to have larger and more diverse collections, followed by public and private universities, and finally public land institutions. Additionally, as herbarium size and richness increases, the research output of associated staff also increases. These results highlight that some institutions, particularly larger institutions located at universities or cultural sector institutions, may be better supported in the curation, stewardship, and digitization of large collections, allowing long-term access to the associated biodiversity data. Smaller institutions at public land institutions may need additional support in these endeavors, and may represent an area of unmet needs for digitization and curatorial funding and resources.

Publication
bioRxiv