The role of voucher specimens in validating faunistic and ecological research

Recommendations

Despite numerous publications outlining the potential benefits of properly prepared and curated voucher specimens, many authors still do not bother with this crucial step in documenting research and not enough pressure is placed on those authors to change their practices. In view of the potential benefits (and costs), this document proposes six recommendations on best practices in voucher policy for studies in systematics, faunistics and ecology of terrestrial arthropods.

  1. Agencies that fund systematic, faunistic and ecological research should acknowledge explicitly that voucher specimens constitute necessary documentation of research. Such a policy would be consistent with the growing recognition of the importance of natural history collections in biological research.
  2. Field research in parks, reserves, field stations or other protected areas that require workers to obtain permits for conducting research should stipulate that deposition of vouchers is a necessary condition of initial permit approval and, especially, of renewal. Many research permits issued by National or Provincial Parks now require deposition of at least a synoptic collection of specimens in a recognized institution. Permits for entomological research at the Mont St. Hilaire UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in Quebec stipulate that vouchers must be deposited in the Lyman Entomological Museum. Adherence to this condition is monitored by Reserve staff and renewals of permits are contingent upon this condition being met.
  3. The editorial policy of entomological journals should require (not simply recommend) that voucher specimens be deposited in recognized institutional collections and that the depository be clearly identified in the paper. Many journals already require documentation of type specimens and molecular sequences; it would be a logical extension of editorial policy to make other research equally verifiable.
  4. University departments should require that deposition of vouchers be a requirement of successful thesis completion. Many universities, and the agencies that fund the research, now require that all relevant animal care, research ethics, biohazard and environmental impact certificates be submitted as appendices to the final version of a thesis, to demonstrate that the research was conducted in accordance with good research practices. Similarly, confirmation that vouchers have been deposited in a named institutional collection should accompany final versions of theses submitted for deposition. In the author’s experience, strong “recommendations” during a thesis defence to deposit vouchers generates enthusiastic support at the time (when much is at stake), but little concrete action after the fact.
  5. Institutional natural history collections should be encouraged to accept and curate voucher specimens from faunistic and ecological studies, and should establish a policy on voucher specimens that is available to all potential researchers prior to starting a study. Some collection staff are hesitant to receive vouchers (especially in large numbers); reasons for this may include poor-quality specimens submitted as vouchers in the past, insufficient space to house vouchers, and a focus on other projects and taxa in the museum’s current research. None of these objections should be an obstacle. Collections can provide appropriate guidance (through the preparation and distribution of instructions and recommendations) to untrained personnel on proper procedures for specimen preparation. Such instructions and guidelines are widely available to researchers initiating a new study. Furthermore, if researchers contact the appropriate collection early enough in the project planning stage, they can be encouraged to provide in their budget for the proper preparation, identification and curation of vouchers. Space in collections is almost always at a premium, but if a particular collection is too crowded or has a different taxonomic or ecological focus, an alternative depository could be suggested.
  6. A database of Canadian entomological collections willing to accept vouchers should be established and maintained on the Biological Survey of Canada website. This would allow researchers to check quickly which collections are available, and would allow museums to change their information as the focus of the collection changes. The advantage of an electronic database is that it allows changes in personnel, institutional policies, website and email addresses and collection status to be updated, as well as providing a gateway to any available databases housed on the websites of those institutions.

Page updated on Feb 23, 2014