Call for proposals: Leveraging natural history collections to understand the impacts of global change

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 be guest edited by Nate Sanders, Alison Davis Rabosky, Natalie Cooper, Chuck Fox and David Gibson. Four of the British Ecological Society journal’s are accepting articles for this Special Feature: Functional Ecology, Journal of Animal Ecology, Methods in Ecology and Evolution and Journal of Ecology.

Journal of Ecology is looking for contributions that use natural history collections, especially herbaria and seed collections, to address ecological concepts including:

~ Long-term studies to understand impacts of global change
~ Effects on plant-herbivore and plant-pathogen interactions
~ Phenotypic and metabolomic plasticity, and functional traits
~ Biogeography and invasion/migration/extinction patterns

Our journal will consider Research, Essay Review and Mini-Review article types.

Page from William Ick herbarium, Birmingham Museums.
Photo: Lukas Large (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Each journal is looking for contributions in different areas, specific to the journal’s scope. More information on what each of the journals is looking for can be found here.

Contributing to the Special Feature

Manuscript proposals can be submitted via this online form, deadline 1 June 2021. If your proposal is accepted, your manuscript must then 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.

Submit your proposal here


Read more on the Methods in Ecology and Evolution blog, where Natalie Cooper discusses the vital importance of natural history collections.

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