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  5. Science Review shows international reach of the museum's national collections

Science Review shows international reach of the museum's national collections

Paul Sokoloff © Canadian Museum of Nature.

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Cover page of the 2020 Science Review. Image of museum lichenologist Dr. Troy McMullin at Axel Heiberg island in the Arctic.

February 10, 2022

Invasive species are an increasing threat to terrestrial protected areas. A decrease in the diversity of microscopic algae is linked to the decline in thickness of Arctic sea ice. And new species, including a rare species of mineral, a prehistoric eel and a new wasp, continue to be identified and described.

These are just a few results from more than 400 scientific studies published in 2020 that are reported in the museum’s latest Science Review. This annual compilation tracks research collaborations and scientific publications that used the museum’s collections for their studies.

The Review shows the increasing impact of the museum’s collections for researchers worldwide. These plants, animals, fossils and minerals—numbering more than 14.6 million specimens—are a gold mine of information that enable and empower other researchers to track changes to biological and geological diversity over time.  

As such, they provide the physical evidence that help the museum’s scientists and others around the world to investigate issues related to evolution, endangered and invasive species, biodiversity, conservation, environmental health and even climate change.

Of the 436 publications and books listed in 2020, about one-third (34%) involved Canadian Museum of Nature staff, including post-doctoral fellows, as well as research associates affiliated with the museum. The remaining two-thirds (284 papers) came from scientists at other institutions, within Canada and abroad.

The overall number for 2020 is an increase over the 385 papers listed in the 2019 Science Review and the 255 publications identified in 2018.

The 2020 Science Review shows that scientists in 45 countries published papers that were informed by data in the museum’s collections—whether they are beetles, lichens, diatoms, minerals, mammals, fishes, vascular plants or other taxonomic groups.

The best-represented countries in this group are the United States (69 papers), followed by Canada (45 papers), then the United Kingdom (20 papers). Papers from Spain, Germany and Brazil were also in double digits, with seven countries represented by five to nine papers and 30 countries represented by one to four papers.

And the museum’s collections continue to expand. Each year, about 20,000 new specimens are added—through fieldwork by museum scientists (often in remote areas), as well as exchanges with other museums, donations from collectors and even purchases.

In many cases, the museum’s specimen data such as species name, when and where it was collected, and geographic coordinates, was accessed through its contributions to international databases such as the Global Biodiversity Information Facility.

One such study, published in Nature Communications, included Canadian Museum of Nature occurrence data to investigate the presence of invasive species in or near close to 200,000 terrestrial protected areas around the world. The research team crunched data about 894 terrestrial invasive animals from 11 taxonomic groups. The results showed that with increasing environmental pressure both within and outside their borders, terrestrial protected areas are at increasing risk of invasion by non-native species.

Read more about the scientific impact of the museum’s collections by downloading the 2020 Science Review at nature,ca/impact.