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Mission and Vision for the Intermountain Herbarium

This document is designed to explain the function of a herbaria in general, and the role of the Intermountain Herbarium in particular. The mission and vision if presented in addition to metrics demonstrating the function of the Intermountain Herbarium on the USU campus and for the state of Utah and beyond.

Herbaria are museums of preserved plant and fungal specimens. Collectively, throughout the world, they contain over 480 million specimens, deposited by botanists over the last four centuries [1]. Herbaria serve many functions [2], including:

  • a resource for studying classification, floristics, genetics, and species distributions;
  • documenting and describing new species;
  • documenting and describing plants with medicinal, nutritional, and disease traits; and
  • archiving voucher specimens used in ecological and agricultural research.

This last function is often under-appreciated, but it is coming under closer scrutiny by funding agencies and scientific journals [3]. Science should be reproducible, and biological specimens are the primary source of data in most biological studies. Furthermore, many plant species are easy to confuse. Herbarium curators are experts in plant identification, and essential for ensuring that specimens are correctly identified in applied research.

In the last 20 years, herbaria have expanded their reach [2] by digitizing collections. This involves capturing images of the specimens and databasing associated information (date collected, georeference, habitat details, soil substrates). Data are made publicly available for researchers and the general public, thereby serving the land grant mission of making knowledge widely available in ways that ordinary people can use. Such data have been used to plot the geographic spread of plant disease [4] and origins and spread of invasive plants [5]. Importantly, DNA survives in most herbarium specimens, so molecular data can also be gathered from historical collections.

The Intermountain Herbarium is recognized as a major regional herbarium. It is the second largest herbarium in the Intermountain Region, and the largest public herbarium in the region, with over 280,00 specimens, of which 163,000 are databased. The Intermountain Herbarium provides the services listed above and, in addition:

  • extensive resources for local extension agents and state agencies, and their clients such as ranchers and other land stewards;
  • materials for USU courses that train students in plant identification;
  • workshops on plant and fungal identification;
  • assisting USU faculty, staff, and students, as well as USDA personnel, in collecting and accessioning voucher specimens for primary research; and
  • serving as a major source of material for the Flora of North America Project and Intermountain Flora volumes.

Mission Statement:

  • To serve as a primary source of information on the flora and fungi of the Intermountain region, both native and introduced
  • To foster increased understanding and appreciation of the floristic diversity of the Intermountain Region

This mission falls within the mission of USU, especially the role of the herbarium in extension services to the people of Utah.

Vision Statement:

Utah State University's Intermountain Herbarium will support users from the University, local communities, State, Nation and world. The Herbarium welcomes all users and will assist in any botanical needs associated with education, research, extension, and other activities. The Herbarium will be fully databased with all specimens imaged and all data available online. The Herbarium will be housed in an easily accessible, central facility with access to classroom space, and will be convenient for staff and users.

The herbarium differs from other plant identification resources in that its personnel can assist in identifying any plant, not just ones already listed in local Floras or invasive species lists. For example, recently a plant appearing in a pasture was taken to the county Extension Office, where it could not be identified, so the client was referred to The Intermountain Herbarium, where the collections manger was able to identify the species using the Flora of China.

Metrics:

The herbarium houses Approximately 280,000 specimens, of which 167,000 are databased and available online. We average about 180 service requests per year from local, state, and federal agencies and individuals, and clients are often referred when other units are unable to assist with botanical queries. We have regular visitors to the Intermountain Herbarium (250 – 500+ per year) for research or teaching needs. Instructors and their students use our specimens and facility for courses, including Wildland Plants and Ecosystems (WILD 3800), Range Plant Taxonomy and Function (WILD 3830), Forest Plants: Identification, Biology, and Function (WILD 3820), Weed Biology & Management (PSC 5550/6550), Plant Systematics and Diversity ( BIOL 4420/6420).

Citations:

  1. Thiers, B. 2017. The world’s herbaria: Available at http://sweetgum.nybg.org/science/ih/
  2. Heberling JM, Isaac BL 2017. Herbarium specimens as exaptations. Am J Bot 104: 963-965.
  3. Schilthuizen M. et al. 2015. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 30: 237-238.
  4. Saville, A. C., M. D. Martin, and J. B. Ristaino. 2016. PLoS One 11 : e0168381.
  5. Barney JN, Whitlow TH, Lembo AJ. 2008. PLoS ONE 3(2):e1635.