Whereas universities in the 1950s, examined as part of the BioScience paper, required natural history courses for a biology degree, today the majority of U.S. schools have no such requirement, a trend that has coincided with the rise of molecular, experimental and other forms of biology. The rate of natural history publications in some disciplines has seen a parallel decline.
"You see collections being abandoned or consolidated," said Kirsten Rowell, a UW acting assistant professor, curator of malacology (shells) at the UW's Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture and a co-author on the paper. "People are being skirted around natural history. Graduate students were told natural history projects were not something valuable to science as a whole."
In the paper the co-authors offer recommendations for individuals and institutions interested in revitalizing natural history.
"There's hope, both within and outside of traditional natural history collections, in the rise of Internet- and smartphone-based technologies that allow the growth of broad partnerships, including citizen-science initiatives," Tewksbury said. An example is eBird, a web-based program developed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology that has capitalized on the widespread interest in and appeal of birds. The program has witnessed a rapid, global increase in data contributors and users, which has enabled both researchers and the general public to benefit from technologies for the collection, organization and dissemination of vast numbers of bird observations.
Such programs are emerging but will need established professionals to self-identify as natural historians to provide the leadership for natural history to reclaim its necessary role, the authors assert.
|Contact: Sandra Hines|
University of Washington