Yale Peabody Museum Summer Internships

Assessing Plant Specimen Collecting Bias

Advisor: Patrick Sweeney (Senior Collections Manager, YPM Division of Botany)


Length: 6 weeks in May and June (with latest possible end date of July 5)


Project Description:

The billions of specimens housed in biological collections provide a tremendous source of under-utilized data that are useful for scientific research, conservation, commerce, and education. Plant specimens housed in collections (also known as herbarium specimens), which provide species and location and date specific records spanning the last three centuries, provide a rich source of data for various kinds of scientific study. Focused studies highlight the great potential to mine these repositories to obtain critical insights into climate change, land-use change, the spread and impact of invasive species, and forest conservation.


Digitization and mobilization of biological collection specimen data and images promises to greatly accelerate the utilization of plant specimens in research. To this end, millions of herbarium specimens have been digitized over the past decade and these digitized specimens are being used for research at an unprecedented scale. However, some studies have shown that non-random collecting practices can introduce biases that can limit the utility of specimen data for research. The scale of such biases is still not fully understood. A better understanding of potential biases is crucial for conducting proper analyses, for guiding future collecting activity, and more.


The research undertaken during this internship will utilize digitized plant specimen data and non-collection-based sources of plant occurrence data to more fully explore potential collecting biases in the Peabody’s and other collections. As part of this internship an interested student would have the opportunity to interact with biological collections databases, remote sensing data, and GIS and statistical analysis software.


The Yale University Herbarium is a dynamic collection housing over 360,000 specimens of vascular plants, algae, mosses, fungi, and lichens from throughout the world. Researchers utilize these specimens for a variety of purposes, from documenting the occurrence of rare and endangered species to serving as a source of genetic material for evolutionary studies.


Stipend: $2250