Sampling bias in herbarium collections

December 22, 2017
Barnabas Daru
Photo by Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

HUH Postdoctoral Fellow Barnabas Daru and colleagues uncovered sampling bias in herbarium collections while examining three digitized collections from the Harvard University Herbaria and herbaria in Australia and South Africa. The collections were scrutinized across categories ranging from when and where samples were collected to which species were collected. "We found widespread biases across all five dimensions we examined," Daru said. "The data show there is a strong tendency for botanists to collect plants close to roadsides rather than deeper in the landscape, and there is also a strong preference for collecting plants in the summer versus the winter or fall." Daru said the purpose of the study and resulting paper isn't to suggest that biases inherent in herbarium collections are a fatal flaw, but rather that they must be considered as part of future studies.

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