Natural history provides essential knowledge for human wellbeing, yet its research, use and instruction in academia, government agencies and non-government organizations is declining drastically.
Simon Fraser University ecologist Anne Salomon is among 17 authors of a new paper that claims this decline in the developed world could seriously undermine the world's progress in research, conservation and management.
The paper, Natural History's Place in Science and Society, evaluates the state of natural history research and use today. The journal BioScience has just published the paper online.
Natural history is the study of the fundamental nature of organisms, and how and where they live and interact with their environment.
According to the study, natural history collections have stopped expanding. The number of active collections of preserved plant specimens has dropped since 1990 in Europe and North America.
The authors say 75 per cent of emerging infectious human diseases, including avian influenza, Lyme disease, cholera and rabies, are linked to other animals at some point in their life cycle. Control strategies rely on knowledge of the hosts' natural history.
The authors note there are all kinds of examples throughout history of how the world could have avoided natural resource-based calamities, had it paid attention to natural history's fundamentals.
"Natural history knowledge is vital for making wise management and conservation decisions. Without it, we can make major blunders that can have extreme costs to nature and people," says Salomon.
For example, opossum shrimp were introduced into British Columbia's Kootenay Lake and other lakes in the western United States in the 1960s as food to boost the production of salmon.
But instead of acting as food, the shrimp migrated to deep water to avoid being eaten by fish during the day and returned to lake surfaces at night t
|Contact: Carol Thorbes|
Simon Fraser University