Natural history collections in museums, herbaria, seed banks, and tissue banks provide some of the most valuable information sources in an ecologist’s toolbox: time series data. These collections not only permanently archive preserved specimens, but also critical historical and contemporary information about how species distributions, interactions, and phenotypes respond to global change across time scales. Whether specimens are serving as indicators of environmental change or as the measurement of an ecological response, they remain critical to understanding ecological impacts of global change. For example, by measuring the morphology of specimens, we know that migratory birds are getting smaller as a result of 40 years of climate change (Weeks et al. 2020). By examining pressed specimens in herbaria, we have learned that herbivory on common plant species in New England has increased over the past 100 years (Meineke et al. 2019), and their phenologies have shifted over the past 170 years (Davis et al. 2016). By comparing historical with contemporary seed accessions we see that seed and seedling traits have responded to climate change over >30 years (Everingham et al. 2020).
By doing stable isotope analyses on feathers, Hilton et al. (2006) found that penguin diets have shifted over the past century. Museum specimens allowed Cheng et al. (2011) to document the emergence of a fungal pathogen and its impact on amphibians in Central America. Finally, there are numerous examples of how ongoing global change has altered the distributions of species (Graham et al. 2004). However, despite the existence of these studies, the value of collections is still underappreciated and much more knowledge can be gained from investigating this rich data resource.
To fill this gap, we are commissioning a cross-journal Special Feature on the contributions and potential of natural history collections to address global change questions. This Special Feature will comprise articles in Journal of Animal Ecology, Functional Ecology, Journal of Ecology and Methods in Ecology and Evolution.
Each journal is looking for contributions in different areas specific to their scope. At Journal of Animal Ecology we are looking for contributions that:
- Examine impacts of global change drivers, over decades and centuries, on morphology, traits, populations, or interactions among species
- Document changes in the distribution of species and changes in biodiversity
- Leverage the diversity of collections in museums to ask pressing questions about the ecology of animals
- Demonstrate how collections lead the way for innovative tests of ecological patterns and processes
Journal of Animal Ecology will consider Research, Review, Long Term Studies, How to, and Concepts article types.
Over on the Methods in Ecology and Evolution blog Natalie Cooper explains why Natural history museums are great and what sorts of submissions MEE is looking for. Check out the submission form for details of what all the other journals are looking for.
Contributing to the Special Feature
Manuscript proposals can be submitted via this online form, deadline 1 June. If your proposal is accepted, your manuscript must be submitted by 1 November 2021.
Manuscripts will then be subject to the same rigorous peer review process as any other submission and must meet our requirements of novelty and broad relevance for an audience of ecologists and/or evolutionary biologists. If not considered appropriate for the Special Feature, manuscripts can still be considered as normal submissions.
Guest edited by Nate Sanders, Alison Davis Rabosky, Natalie Cooper, Chuck Fox and David Gibson.