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Cambridge University Herbarium


Exploring our Botanical Treasure Trove

Researcher: Anne Dubéarnès

Cambridge University Herbarium holds an estimated 50,000 type specimens - the original specimens used to describe a new species. However, only a fraction of these are known - the rest are filed somewhere amongst our 1.1 million specimens. Careful research is required to identify the true types and make them accessible to the research community.

Appointed in summer 2023, Anne is the University Herbarium’s first Special Collections researcher. She is working on a project entitled “Opening Access to the Type Specimens in the Cambridge University Herbarium”, part-funded by the Isaac Newton Trust. Anne’s project focuses on identifying type specimens in the collections. This can be a complex process, requiring meticulous detective work, since many types are centuries old and often poorly labelled. To make it even more complicated, conventions for naming species and assigning type status have changed through time. The types that Anne discovers will be digitised and made freely available online through Cambridge Digital Library. This will form a valuable resource for taxonomic studies as well as broader botanical, ecological and historical research.

In search of wild tulips

Researchers: Brett Wilson and Sam Brockington (Department of Plant Sciences)

Herbaria are vital resources for surveying botanical diversity. They provide a reference collection for identifying known species, for naming and describing new species and for resolving evolutionary relationships. The collections are also repositories for new botanical material collected during fieldwork.

In 2022, Brett Wilson completed a NERC-iCASE PhD with Flora & Fauna International on the taxonomy and evolutionary history of the genus Tulipa and its impact on conservation priorities in Central Asia. Herbaria around the world, including the Cambridge University Herbarium, were crucial to this work. Nearly 90% of all wild tulip species were sampled to resolve the evolutionary history and species phylogeny of the genus. Herbarium specimens from Brett's fieldwork, including type material for the newly published species, Tulipa toktogulica, are now stored safely in the Herbarium in perpetuity.

Wilson, B. (2022). Tulipa toktogulica (Liliaceae), a cryptic, endangered new species from the Western Tien-Shan, Kyrgyzstan. Phytotaxa 566(1): 1-12.

Wilson, B., Dolotbakov, A., Burgess, B.J. et al. (2021). Central Asian wild tulip conservation requires a regional approach, especially in the face of climate change. Biodiversity and Conservation 30, 1705–1730.