When we’ve talked about type specimens on Ecology for the Masses, we‘ve spent a lot of time emphasising how important it is to preserve them. Bottom line is, if they get destroyed, there are a lot of really important biological questions that become very difficult to answer.
Thankfully, landmark leaps in technology have made it possible to extract DNA from those specimens and store them in a public repository (e.g. the NCBI nucleotide database). So then even if a specimen is lost, the DNA would still be there and could be compared to that of other specimens to figure out if it’s the same species. Sounds like a clever and straightforward thing to do, but as always, it’s more complicated in reality.
If you are a scientist, what made you become one? Did you know a scientist before you started to study? Did you know what life as a scientist would be like? Answering these questions for aspiring kids is the goal of the Letters to a Pre-Scientist program, which I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of for the last six months.
You might have come across the word “subspecies” when reading about biodiversity, but what does the term actually mean? And do we really need a more precise classification beyond species? There is unfortunately no consensus about this. Ask 5 biologist and you’ll get at least 10 different answers. So let’s have a look at why it’s such a complicated issue.
Last September, the devastating news of a fire in Brazil’s National Museum in Rio de Janeiro hit the world. The fire destroyed most of the collection, including about 5 million insect specimens. Many of the samples were holotypes, a subset of type specimens which are particularly valuable to the scientific world. If you want an indication of just how valuable, some researchers even charged back into the building while it was on fire to rescue these specimens, saving about 80 % of the mollusc holotypes.
If you’ve read some of our previous posts on invasive species, you’ll have learned that they can be a real danger to local ecosystems and economies, and even have impacts on our health. But as Vanessa Bieker writes, there is a silver lining, and that comes in the form of what invasive species are teaching us about evolution.
Image Credit: Sue Sweeney, CC BY-SA 3.0, Image Cropped.