Digitizing Herbaria: Preserving Plant Specimens for Future Study

Digitizing Herbaria serves as an invaluable resource in the scientific community, comprising carefully preserved plant specimens and their associated data. Researchers often dry and systematically mount entire plants or specific parts on sheets of paper. This method of preservation ensures their longevity for future reference and study. Consequently, herbariums play a critical role in the taxonomic description of plant species, providing a reliable reference for researchers and botanists. Notably, some specimens within a herbarium are designated as types or belong to series known as exsiccatae, which are essential for the formal documentation and classification of plant taxa.

In mycology, scientists maintain a similar collection of preserved fungi called a fungarium. These collections are crucial for studying and classifying fungi, aiding in various research endeavors. Additionally, a xylarium specializes in preserving wood specimens, which are invaluable for dendrological studies and wood identification. Meanwhile, a hortorium focuses on preserving horticultural material, providing resources for botanical research and plant breeding.

Herbarium specimens, whether from a fungarium, xylarium, or hortorium, are essential for extracting genetic material used in DNA analyses and for gathering pollen for palynological studies. These contributions significantly enhance our understanding of biodiversity and plant evolution.

What is the Purpose of a Herbarium?

The purpose of a herbarium is multifaceted:

  1. Scientific Reference: Herbaria serve as essential scientific references for botanists, ecologists, taxonomists, and other researchers. They provide a curated collection of plant specimens, including dried leaves, flowers, fruits, and sometimes entire plants. Additionally, these specimens are meticulously labeled with information about their origin, habitat, and characteristics.
  2. Species Identification and Description: Researchers use herbarium specimens to identify and describe plant species. By comparing new specimens with existing ones, researchers determine their taxonomic classification. Moreover, these comparisons help create accurate species descriptions and contribute to our understanding of plant diversity.
  3. Biodiversity Studies: Herbaria play a crucial role in documenting global biodiversity. By preserving specimens from different regions and time periods, they allow scientists to track changes in plant distributions, phenology, and abundance over time. This information proves vital for conservation efforts.
  4. Historical Documentation: Herbarium collections often contain historical specimens collected by early botanists and explorers. These specimens provide insights into past ecosystems, plant distributions, and human interactions with the environment.
  5. Education and Outreach: Herbaria support education by providing teaching materials for botany courses. Furthermore, they engage with the public through exhibitions, workshops, and citizen science initiatives.
  6. Research and Discovery: Various research fields, including ecology, evolution, climate change studies, and pharmacology, rely on herbarium specimens. They enable discoveries related to plant adaptations, genetic diversity, and ecological interactions.

Significant Advantages of Digitizing Herbaria

Digitizing herbaria provides numerous significant advantages, including enhanced accessibility and searchability when scanned and hosted online, enabling researchers, students, and the general public to examine specimens remotely. The digitization process encompasses more than just the fundamental specimen information, such as the taxon name and collection date. It also captures comprehensive data on habitat details, collector activities, and ecological associations. This wealth of additional information enriches researchers’ datasets, facilitating a wide range of studies and fostering deeper insights into botanical and ecological research.

Consequently, digitized herbaria become invaluable resources for scientific exploration and education. Not to forget that Georeferencing the online herbaria provides precise information enabling researchers to understand species distributions, track changes over time, and integrate herbarium data with other environmental datasets.

The Digitization Solution

ABTec Solutions offers an advanced scan model with a unique mechanistic design. This design guarantees specimen morphological integration during image capture, eliminating irreversible risks from conventional upside-down scans or vertically moving scanning stations. Introducing the ObjectScan 1600, which provides high-resolution images up to 1600 dpi. With its color linear CCD and built-in 48-bit Analog to Digital Converter, it precisely captures and presents the entire specimen, along with detailed surface textures, in a high-fidelity format.

Digitizing Herbaria

University of Regina’s Faculty of Science Herbarium Collection Digitization Project using Microtek ObjectScan 1600

Are you Worried from Digitizing your Collection?

Do you have a fragile herbarium? No worries, the ObjectScan 1600 has a DOF (Depth of Field) up to +/- 6.5 mm at 300 dpi, which can overcome uneven or protruded parts of plant specimen. This is of especially help on specimen with corns and fruits, preserving and presenting the original characters for academic purpose.

The University of Regina’s Faculty of Science embarked on an ambitious digitization project to preserve their extensive herbarium collection, which includes over 70,000 plant specimens, some dating back more than a century. Recognizing the risks associated with handling these fragile specimens, the university decided to invest in the ObjectScan 1600. This state-of-the-art equipment will enable the digitization of the hidden herbarium collection stored in a small room within the university’s laboratory building. The facility is filled with rows of old cabinets containing similar folders of specimens, and digitizing these will ensure their preservation while making them more accessible for research and study.

In summary, Herbaria are invaluable repositories of plant knowledge, serving as essential resources for both current research and future generations of scientists. These collections provide critical data for taxonomy, conservation, and ecological studies. By preserving plant specimens, herbaria ensure that researchers have access to historical and contemporary plant materials, thereby facilitating a deeper understanding of biodiversity and environmental changes over time. If you are interested in converting your collection to a digital format or enhancing its accessibility, please do not hesitate to reach out to ABTec Solutions for more information. Our expertise can help maximize the value and utility of your botanical resources.


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