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ORIGINAL RESEARCH article

Front. Ecol. Evol.
Sec. Phylogenetics, Phylogenomics, and Systematics
Volume 12 - 2024 | doi: 10.3389/fevo.2024.1305931

The taxonomic and chronological composition of a museum collection of Coleoptera revealed through large-scale digitisation Provisionally Accepted

 Beulah Garner1* Louise Allan1  Robyn Crowther1 Lizzy Devenish1  Phaedra Kokkini1  Laurence Livermore1 Nicola Lowndes1  Krisztina Lohonya1 Ben Price1 Peter Wing1  Alfried P. Vogler2
  • 1Natural History Museum (United Kingdom), United Kingdom
  • 2Imperial College London, United Kingdom

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Introduction: Historic museum collections hold a wealth of biodiversity data that are essential to our understanding of the rapidly changing natural world. Novel curatorial practices are needed to extract and digitise these data, especially for the innumerable pinned insects whose collecting information is held on small labels.We piloted semi-automated specimen imaging and digitisation of specimen labels for a collection of ~29,000 pinned insects of ground beetles (Carabidae: Lebiinae) held at the Natural History Museum, London. Raw transcription data were curated against literature sources and non-digital collection records. The primary data were subjected to statistical analyses to infer trends in collection activities and descriptive taxonomy over the past two centuries.This work produced research-ready digitised records for 2,734 species (43% of known species of Lebiinae). Label information was available on geography in 91% of identified specimens, and the time of collection in 39.8% of specimens and could be approximated for nearly all specimens. Label data revealed the great age of this collection (average age 91.4 years) and the peak period of specimen acquisition between 1880 and 1930, with little differences among continents. Specimen acquisition declined greatly after about 1950. Early detected species generally were present in numerous specimens but were missing records from recent decades, while more recently acquired species (after 1950) were represented mostly by singleton specimens only. The slowing collection growth was mirrored by the decreasing rate of species description, and was affected by huge time lags of several decades to formal description after the initial specimen acquisition.Discussion: Historic label information provides a unique resource for assessing the state of biodiversity backwards to pre-industrial times. Many species held in historical collections especially from tropical super-diverse areas may not be discovered ever again, and if they do, their recognition requires access to digital resources and more complete levels of species description. A final challenge is to link the historical specimens to contemporary collections that are mostly conducted with mechanical trapping of specimens and DNA-based species recognition.

Keywords: Conceptualization, Data curation, Formal analysis, investigation, methodology, Writingoriginal draft, Writingreview & editing. Thomas J. Creedy: Formal Analysis, Writingoriginal draft. Louise Allan: Conceptualization

Received: 02 Oct 2023; Accepted: 28 May 2024.

Copyright: © 2024 Garner, Allan, Crowther, Devenish, Kokkini, Livermore, Lowndes, Lohonya, Price, Wing and Vogler. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Ms. Beulah Garner, Natural History Museum (United Kingdom), London, SW7 5BD, Westminster, United Kingdom