Thirty Years

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From 1970 to 1990 we were freelance associates of the National Museum of Natural Sciences (NMNS, now Canadian Museum of Nature, CMN). We were the major contributor to the museums's herpetological, crayfish, and skeletal collections, and we contributed fish, land and freshwater mollusks, lichens, mosses, and vascular plants from all across Canada. Aleta collected in Kenya in 1972, illustrated Freshwater Molluscs of Canada, and since 1975 has been preparing watercolour portraits from life of all Canadian amphibians and reptiles for Francis Cook's monograph of these classes. Fred collected Birds for the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) throughout Canada south of the high Arctic in 1970-1975, while his Ph.D thesis was based on NMNS specimens, and he was or led almost all of the NMNS's post-1980 herpetological expeditions.

Our three Canada-wide trips (1976-1977, 1985-1986, 1987-1989) that were supported by advance royalties for books were largely devoted to collecting for the NMNS. Our goal was to contribute to the biotic inventory of northern North America by providing "preserved series of specimens... for traditional, contemporary, and foreseeable research into spatial and temporal change in Canada and associated areas." (draft Mission Statement for the NMNS, 31 October 1986), and we made collections and landmark monitoring observations towards this end both around home and where we travelled.

Frederick W. Schueler & Aleta Karstad - Bishops Mills Natural History Centre

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Aspects of the 30-years-later project:

historic field work
journal formats

this month 30 years ago
30-Years-Later publications

planned route for 2010
possible projects for 2010
field methods for 2010
teaching revisit methods

planned events
suggest a revisit
sponsors of the 30 Years project

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About us

Bishops Mills
Natural History

Thirty Years Later: Databasing, Up-grading, and revisiting observations recorded in naturalists' field notes from coast to coast to coast.

Frederick W. Schueler & Aleta Karstad - Bishops Mills Natural History Centre

Naturalists' field notes and first-hand observations are historically unique, while well-documented collections preserve an irreplaceable slice of time and place. The effort spent in conserving natural history collections and specimens is justified, and their value is increased, by replication and re-visits in later years, which convert initial exploration into continued monitoring.

We have spent the last forty years in exploration and monitoring of Canada's biota, From 1970-1990 we travelled all across Canada as independent museum collectors; artist and herptologist. Since 1990 we've travelled less, but we've undertaken vigorous collecting of large invertebrates in eastern Ontario and adjacent areas, especially Unionid Mussels and the drifted shells of land snails, and have monitored a variety of species around home.

In September, 2001, Eric Hoffman came to the Canadian Museum of Nature to sample the Leopard Frogs Fred had preserved as dried skins in the 1970's for his thesis. Eric's Ph.D. thesis dealt with on the mitochondrial and microsatellite DNA-based phylo-geographic history of Leopard Frogs, in the southwestern potion of the species range, while Fred's had dealt with pigmentation and glandular variation (measured on dried skins) in the northeastern half of the range. Fortunately the DNA is not degraded by drying, as it is by preservation in formaldehyde, so Eric was able to expand his coverage to the entire range of the species by taking snips from Fred's skins.

He and Fred also collected samples at some of the sites sampled from 1971-1980 to see how much genetic drift and colour change there had been, and to allow neutral-allele-based calculation of effective population sizes between the 1970's and 2001. It was at this point that we realized that the future had arrived: thirty years of tumultuous environmental change was enough justification for us to go back to the places we'd visited in the past, and to leave a clear account of what we saw as change and stability, rather than waiting for future generations to puzzle over our accounts of location and conditions.

Since then, we've tried to make our field work emphasise Thirty-years-later revisits, and we've sought grant support and museum collaboration for digitizing old field notes in the uniform format of our EOBase database, increasing the precision with which our early field notes and catalogues are geo-referenced, referencing these co-ordinates and the field notes to the curatorial data for specimens held by museums (CMN & ROM [Royal Ontario Museum]), revisiting sites, and comparing what we're able to find there now with what we found then. The relevance of this exploration is most graphically illustrated by the fact that the Chorus Frog, Pseudacris triseriata, is now extirpated from the jurisdictions (Vermont & Newfoundland) where we collected the first specimens in 1975 and 1976.

It's a truism that everybody is interested in the old question "Are things getting worse?", which makes them nominally interested in historical data, but there has been no routine way of updating these data, or general routines for checking up on whether species or conditions persist at particular sites over the decades (except for 're-doing' atlasses - but 'reatlassing' doesn't incorporate the pre-atlassing history of the taxon in the region, or unsystematic observations of associated phenomena).

In 2003, we exchanged specimen data with the CMN and the ROM, and in 2009 the CMN suggested that they send us back to places we'd visited 30 years ago, as part of their participation in the International Year of Biodiversity, in 2010. We're now beginning preparations for setting off on that trip, seeking collaborators, sponsors, and suggestions for revisits, and hoping to use our activities as an educational vehicle for naturalists and governments to teach the value of field notes and specimens.

Fred & Aleta - 20 July 2009.