Featured Collection: FSU’s Robert K. Godfrey Herbarium
As you may have noticed, many of the herbarium images currently featured in Notes from Nature come from FSU’s Robert K. Godfrey Herbarium. To peak your interest, we are happy to share this guest post from the herbarium’s director, Austin Mast. Enjoy! – Andrew Sallans
Florida State University’s Robert K. Godfrey Herbarium is a biodiversity research collection of about 210,000 plant and microalgae specimens. These primarily document the distribution and natural variation of the roughly 2,800 species of flowering plants, ferns, conifers, and cycads found in the East Gulf Coastal Plain (EGCP) ecoregion—a North American biotic hotspot—and the microalgae of Florida’s Gulf and Atlantic coasts. A secondary strength of the collection is tropical Central America. The herbarium grows at a rate of about 2,000 specimens each year.
Stretching across the Florida panhandle to eastern Louisiana along the coast, the EGCP is home to 125 endemic plant taxa (species and varieties found nowhere else), including the White-top Pitcher Plant (left). A large number of the regional endemics are restricted to pine-dominated wetlands and uplands, two communities that have dwindled to less than 5% of their original extent and are now considered among the most endangered ecosystems in North America. Loss of longleaf pine-dominated communities and fire suppression has left many endemics critically imperiled, and the EGCP is also considered a “species endangerment hotspot,” with many of its counties within the top 95th percentile of US counties when ranked by the number of threatened and endangered species in each. The Robert K. Godfrey Herbarium is the most extensive collection of plants from the eastern part of the EGCP.
The herbarium was established in 1940 by Herman Kurz (1886–1966), a professor of botany at what was then the Florida State College for Women. It is named for Kurz’s successor, Robert K. Godfrey (1911–2000), who collected about one-third of the specimens currently in the collection, named many plant species himself, and had 12 plant species or varieties named for him (such as Hymenocallis godfreyi, an endangered spiderlily restricted to one county in Florida; below right). The FSU botanists Loran Anderson, Gil Nelson, and Austin Mast (the herbarium director) currently use the specimens onsite for research and education, as do Florida’s natural resource managers. Through an active loan program, biologists from around the world borrow specimens from the Robert K. Godfrey Herbarium for studies of plant and microalgae systematics, ecology, evolution, biogeography, conservation biology, anatomy, and morphology.
About a third of the Robert K. Godfrey Herbarium’s specimens have been digitally imaged, databased, and georeferenced since 2003, thanks to support from the National Science Foundation, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the (typically) short-term efforts of about 75 students and staff members. This third of the collection is searchable at http://herbarium.bio.fsu.edu/search-specimens.php, allowing anyone with access to the web to sort result tables, browse through images, and generate distribution maps.
The Robert K. Godfrey Herbarium would like to complete the digitization of the remaining two-thirds of the collection in the next 10 years. This parallels the broader goal of the US biodiversity research community to digitize the roughly 90% of the 1 billion biodiversity research specimens yet to be digitized in US collections in the next decade. This ambitious community goal can be reached with greater coordination and standardization within the digitization community, more efficient workflows, technological innovation, and broader participation—ESPECIALLY public participation. For more information on how the public can contribute, see the report on iDigBio’s Public Participation in Digitization of Biodiversity Specimens Workshop organized by the Robert K. Godfrey Herbarium’s director, Austin Mast.
The Robert K. Godfrey Herbarium (and all of the world’s biodiversity research collections) need your help to make our specimens broadly discoverable and potentially useful to everyone. Thank you, Notes from Nature community members!
-Austin R. Mast, Director of FSU Robert K. Godfrey Herbarium