The Extended Specimen: Emerging Frontiers in Collections-Based Ornithological Research

The Extended Specimen
Michael S Webster (editor)
Publisher:  CRC Press, Boca Raton
Page Count:  252
ISBN Number:  9781498729154

Until about the middle of the 20th Century “Ornithology” was primarily, though not exclusively, done by collecting birds and putting the specimens into museums or private collections.  And a great deal of basic knowledge especially of taxonomy and distributions was gleaned from this.  Since then - and increasingly so - the whole ethos of collecting in this form has been questioned more and more and especially as other techniques have improved.  This book however aims to show that, actually, the research value of both historical and new collections is growing, and throughout it emphasises that if collecting is undertaken then you must get as much information as you possibly can from that specimen and not just create a study skin or equivalent.

The book is the result of a symposium held in Chicago in 2013 as part of the Joint meeting of the American Ornithologists’ Union and Cooper Ornithological Society.  There are 11 chapters (papers) covering a variety of topics as well as an Introduction and what amounts to a summary chapter.  The topics covered range over colouration and pigments, vocal ecology and evolution, isotope studies, aerodynamics, genomic resources, biodiversity informatics and symbionts, and most show that traditional collections can be an essential addition to the use of other techniques in adding to our knowledge of birds.

As will be suggested by the inclusion of this volume within the “Studies in Avian Biology” series it is an academic not a popular book.  Some chapters are quite hard going, indeed I suspect readership will be limited to professional museum staff and academic biologists.  And if these people want to convince the ordinary birdwatcher that collecting is still necessary, they would need to produce a rather more readable volume.

Peter Lack