Duke Shuts Down Huge Plant Collection, Causing Scientific Uproar

Duke University has decided to close its herbarium, a collection of 825,000 specimens of plants, fungi and algae that was established more than a century ago. The collection, one of the largest and most diverse in the country, has helped scientists map the diversity of plant life and chronicle the impact of humans on the environment.

The university’s decision has left researchers reeling. “This is such a devastating blow for biodiversity science,” said Erika Edwards, the curator of the Yale Herbarium. “The entire community is simultaneously shocked and outraged.”

Scientific societies have also protested the move. “Duke’s decision to forgo responsibility of their herbarium specimens sets a terrible precedent,” the Natural Science Collections Alliance wrote in a letter to the university last Friday.

The alliance, along with six other scientific societies, endorsed a petition asking Duke to reconsider closing the herbarium. As of Wednesday, it had gained over 11,000 signatures.

“It is very shocking that such a large collection at a wealthy university would be deemed dispensable,” said Regina Baucom, a plant geneticist at the University of Michigan.

In an email sent last week to the herbarium’s staff, Susan Alberts, the dean of natural sciences at Duke, said that the university had decided that the collection should be moved elsewhere in the next two to three years.

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