The COSM Aggregate

June 9, 2017

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Spotlight Edition, Vol. 2

Georgia Southern Herbarium Preserves Natural History

On a sunny spring afternoon in the Department of Biology, John Schenk, Ph.D. is leading a small group of administrators through the Georgia Southern University Herbarium. To one side of the room, several specimens are arranged on the long countertop for viewing. On the other side of the room, rows of tall, metal cabinets hold thousands of plant species from around the world. In an adjoining room, two students are quietly cataloguing pressed plant samples. One student is pasting a specimen to an old newspaper, while the other is entering information on where and when the plant was collected into a computer.

Most people are probably not aware that Georgia Southern University is home to the third largest herbarium, a systemically arranged collection of dried plant specimens, in the state of Georgia. Georgia Southern is fortunate to have finally secured a dedicated space for the herbarium in the new Biological Sciences building. The Georgia Southern Herbarium houses 21,000 cataloged specimens, representing 236 families, 1,511 genera and 5,258 species of plants. In addition, it holds 26,000 uncataloged specimens that represent local plant diversity - including many endangered species.

The Georgia Southern University Herbarium was founded in 1956 by John Boole, Jr., Ph.D. and Tully Pennington, Ph.D., both faculty members in the Department of Biology. The Herbarium has been curated by several different professors, but in recent years, the collection received a large contribution from Biology Professor Alan Harvey, Ph.D. While serving as curator, Dr. Harvey databased much of the herbarium collection. He collaborated with the SouthEast Regional Network of Expertise and Collections (SERNEC) to ensure that they digitize the herbarium records following the most up to date methods and standards. Dr. Harvey was also instrumental in combining the various collections.

For the past two years, Dr. Schenk has been curating the herbarium at Georgia Southern. He is a plant evolutionary biologist and the research he conducts strives to understand the evolutionary processes that have generated the vast number of plant species and their morphological forms. In 2016, Dr. Schenk received a National Science Foundation (NSF) Biological Research Collections grant in the amount of $280,798. This funding is being used to integrate uncatalogued plants into the herbarium. This funded project allows the Georgia Southern Herbarium to double its holdings over the next two years, a feat that is rarely accomplished in natural history collections. As the collections become catalogued, they will be accessible to students and researchers throughout the world. Assisting with this project is Colleen Evans. As the Collections Manager at Georgia Southern, she is responsible for all of the collections associated with the James H. Oliver, Jr., Institute for Coastal Plain Science (ICPS), including the U.S. National Tick Collection (USNTC). Her main interests include collection digitization and biodiversity informatics.

Natural history collections, like the Georgia Southern University Herbarium, play a critical role in science policy, research, and teaching. These invaluable collections tell us what species occurred where, and when in time the organisms were present (or alive). As the Earth’s climate and environments change, these collections are likely to play an even more important role by informing scientists on how those changes affect biological diversity. In addition to the Herbarium, Georgia Southern houses six collections: entomology, herpetology, ichthyology, ornithology, and the Grey’s Reef Invertebrate collection. Each collection strives to train the next generation of Georgia Southern biologists.

Students interested in working with Dr. Schenk in his lab or with the Georgia Southern Herbarium, are encouraged to visit Schenk Lab and contact him for more information.

About Us

The College of Science and Mathematics at Georgia Southern University prepares students in baccalaureate majors and the Master of Science programs.

  • Biology
  • Chemistry and Biochemistry
  • Geology and Geography
  • Mathematical Sciences
  • Military Science/ROTC
  • Physics