Professor Christopher Dick is the new associate chair for museum collections, responsible for managing all aspects of the University of Michigan Herbarium. He steps in for Professor Paul Berry, who served as director/associate chair for museum collections from 2006 – 2015. Dick is associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, associate curator, U-M Herbarium, and director of the E.S. George Reserve.
The following is Dick’s director’s update as posted on the Herbarium website:
It is an honor to accept my new role as director of the UM Herbarium. With its 150-year history and over 1.7 million specimens of plants and fungi, UMH is a research jewel. I take the reins from the capable hands of Paul Berry, who, as director from 2006-2015, forged a smoothly running operation.
Visitors will be impressed by the changes to the UMH facility on Varsity Drive. Over the past few years, the college has spent about $50 million to transform the building from warehouse into a modern research facility. We will soon be joined at Varsity Drive by our sister museums of Anthropological Archeology, Paleontology and Zoology. These units last shared a roof over 70 years ago, when the Herbarium was located in the Ruthven building.
The unification of these biodiversity and cultural museums will facilitate cross-disciplinary interactions, with the potential for new academic directions and improved stewardship of our invaluable collections. The enlarged facilities will also provide new spaces for specimen-based classroom activities.
Our scientific staff continues to grow the collection in the service of biodiversity discovery. Paul Berry has recently returned from Madagascar where he collected new tree species in the genus Croton. Mike Wynne continues his systematic work on algae, as does Chris Anderson on the tropical tree and liana family Malpighiaceae, and Rich Rabeler on the Caryophyllaceae. Tim James’ research on amphibian-killing chytrid fungi took him to Brazil, and I recently traveled to Amazon forests in Peru for biogeographic research. Despite these global efforts, there remains much to be learned in Michigan. In fact, Tony Reznicek, who works on sedges worldwide, recently described a new species from our backyard, in Washtenaw County.
The Herbarium remains committed to public education about Michigan botany. Our Michigan Flora website, with authoritative information on the taxonomy, range and habitat occurrence of nearly 3,000 Michigan plant species, was accessed over 700,000 times during the month of August 2015. Amateur botanists have contributed 11,000 of the photographs on the website, and since 2011 they have added more than 11,000 specimens to our collection, mainly documenting range expansions and rare species.
The Herbarium has made leaps and bounds in the area of specimen digitization (i.e., publishing images and specimen data online). Our first digitization efforts, funded by the Mellon Foundation in 2011, focused on our 23,000 type specimens (“types” are the specimens designated to represent species when they are first described). The National Science Foundation supports our digitization efforts with seven current awards (see list below), and we have thus far digitized ca. 475,000 specimens. These specimen data contribute to the “ecosystem” of biodiversity knowledge that feeds into systematics and macroecology as well as conservation, education and public outreach.
As we look ahead to a new year, we hope that you will learn from and support the work of the University of Michigan Herbarium.