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Scientists sound alarm after university makes 'shameful' decision to close research facility: 'It really is a tragic state of affairs'

"This is such a devastating blow."

"This is such a devastating blow."

Photo Credit: iStock

Imagine a vast library filled with books containing the stories of millions of plant species, each page a chapter in the intricate tale of our planet's biodiversity. Now, picture the doors of this library closing indefinitely, its shelves emptied, and its invaluable knowledge lost to the passage of time. 

This is the somber reality facing Duke University's herbarium, a treasure trove of botanical specimens akin to a botanical library.

What's happening?

Duke University's herbarium is home to a staggering 825,000 plant, fungi, and algae specimens. Now, it is facing closure after more than a century of operation. This collection, renowned as one of the largest and most diverse in the country, has been instrumental in advancing the understanding of plant life diversity and environmental impacts over the years.

The news of the herbarium's closure has sent shockwaves through the scientific community. Researchers, like Erika Edwards from Yale Herbarium, have expressed deep concern over the loss, highlighting its devastating impact on biodiversity science.

"This is such a devastating blow for biodiversity science," said Edwards, according to the New York Times. "The entire community is simultaneously shocked and outraged."

Why is the situation concerning?

The decision to close Duke's herbarium is not just a setback for scientific research. It also sets a worrying precedent for the future of biodiversity preservation. 

Scientific societies, including the Natural Science Collections Alliance, have voiced strong opposition, emphasizing the critical role herbariums play in scientific discovery and environmental conservation. 

Plant research has led to the discovery of new dangers for tropical trees and the need to redraw plant hardiness zone maps, indicating drastic shifts in suitable growing conditions across large swaths of land. This type of research is essential not only for the scientific community but also for farmers, gardeners, and policymakers who rely on accurate data to make informed decisions about crop selection, conservation efforts, and climate mitigation strategies.

While Duke University maintains its intention to relocate the collection, finding suitable homes for the specimens remains a challenge.

"There are no herbariums that could absorb something like this. I'm very concerned that it will end up in a warehouse somewhere and become forgotten," Dr. Kathleen Pryer, director of the Duke herbarium, said, according to the New York Times. "It really is a tragic state of affairs." 

"It is shameful for Duke to abandon research and training in biodiversity studies," Brent Mishler, a former herbarium curator at Duke, added.

What's being done about it?

Efforts to reverse Duke's decision are underway, with scientific societies and researchers advocating for the preservation of the herbarium, according to the New York Times

A petition urging Duke to reconsider its stance has garnered significant support, reflecting widespread concern within the scientific community. As discussions continue, it is essential to prioritize the preservation of these invaluable collections and uphold our commitment to advancing knowledge and understanding of the natural world.

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