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Royal BC Museum insect curator position in danger, but you can make a difference

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Only half of an estimated 35, 000 insects in BC have been recorded. A curator is urgently needed to address research priorities for BC’s most diverse group of organisms. Photo by Miles Zhang.

 

The following is a guest post by Professor Felix Sperling 

I’m always amazed when I see a well-established natural history museum that doesn’t have entomology curators. What are their administrators thinking? Insects form half of the known species diversity of our planet, a fundamental fact that too many people are unaware of. The ecological and even economic impact of all those species is overwhelming across all terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems, which are of course the habitats that we occupy ourselves. And there is still a shocking amount of insect biodiversity left undocumented or misunderstood, lying in wait to bite us, literally and figuratively, just when we are unprepared to deal with it.

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Over 16, 000 RBCM Entomology specimens have been loaned out in the past 5 years alone. Photo: S. McCann.

 

But that is just the surface. The study of insects is an indispensable portal to understanding life on our planet and therefore to knowing ourselves and our place in this world. An appreciation of the exuberant diversity of insects is an essential foundation from which to build a fully connected and integrated appreciation of our surroundings, and to understanding the diversity and vitality of our interactions. That connectedness is what modern museums strive to capture and present. An entomology curator is the nexus for such connections, serving to do so very much more than just assembling specimens. An entomology curator is responsible for half of all known biological diversity, which also means curation of half of our knowledge about diversity, a human construct that is vulnerable to extinction just like a language is. And more than a purely cultural construct, such a curator maintains the chain that ties the dynamic memory of a human community to the material reality that allows the people of our planet to thrive. So how can a serious museum do without one, especially in a region where biodiversity is important to the self image of a people and insect biodiversity professionals are already so few in number?

 

So I was seriously puzzled to hear that the CEO of the Royal British Columbia Museum, Professor Jack Lohman, is seriously considering redirecting their entomology curator salary line, which was vacated when Dr. Rob Cannings retired in 2012. But I hear that there is still time for us all to have some input into the process, since Lohman has agreed to discuss the issue one last time on January 22nd, and has asked for a demonstration of support for such a position from outside the museum by that date.

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Curatorial oversight leads to enhanced public engagement, fulfilling the core mission of a public museum. Photo by Miles Zhang.

 

 

I hope that as many of you as possible can write a short letter to Professor Lohman to point out the importance of entomology in the context of the Royal British Columbia Museum and the broader community that it is part of. Letters from a diversity of backgrounds and institutions would be most helpful. Some of you will have already heard about this via emails that circulated just before the holiday break, and here is an information sheet that may help you to make the case. You can get a better sense of Professor Lohman’s vision and background here.

Letters on institutional letterhead would be best, and can be sent to:

Prof. Jack Lohman,  Chief Executive Officer

Royal British Columbia Museum

675 Belleville St,

Victoria, BC V8W 9W2

JLohman@royalbcmuseum.bc.ca

 

And send a copy to:

Peter Ord: Vice President, Archives, Collections, and Knowledge

POrd@royalbcmuseum.bc.ca

 

My deepest appreciation to all of you who have read this far, and especially to any of you who can send off a letter, however brief. May you all have a happy, healthy and prosperous year in 2015!

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The Royal BC Museum houses over 600,000 entomological specimens. Photo: S. McCann.

 

 

This post is also available in: English