Securing and Sharing Biocultural Diversity Collections at The New York Botanical Garden

Matthew Pace

Plants and traditional knowledge about plants are important elements of all cultures, ranging from crops and medicines, to religious practices, and the sustainable management of ecosystem services. One way that cultural knowledge about plants is preserved for future generations is through mutually beneficial ethnobotanical research which often depends on the creation and preservation of herbarium specimens. In this project, The New York Botanical Garden will enhance curation of 11,000 specimens, physically and digitally securing and increasing access to them, linking specimen data and publications to other objects that document biological and cultural knowledge. These valuable collections serve as vouchered primary data for biocultural research, and serve as baseline data for future comparisons, as the species and knowledge they document are important components of interconnected societal and ecological systems.

Biocultural diversity is a concept that emphasizes the mutual connections between biodiversity and cultural knowledge, beliefs, and practices associated with biodiversity. As global environments and human cultures become ever more connected and homogenized, biocultural diversity faces threats, with such knowledge ultimately facing extinction if action is not taken to preserve and share it. Therefore, the collections and data that capture biocultural diversity are becoming ever more important. The documentation and preservation of biocultural diversity is an essential means of safeguarding traditional knowledge to solve future ecological challenges, support resilience and local livelihoods, and help Indigenous and other traditional peoples maintain food sovereignty. In addition to securing these specimens and their assoicated data, this project will help establish global standards that will be widely implemented across institutions that hold biocultural collections, while introducing students, typically from groups underrepresented in science, to data science methods using Geographic Information Systems (GIS), ethnobotany, and conservation assessment. This project will augment how The New York Botanical Garden shares these cultural resources and their data to the public, including an expanded search feature for 23,000 vernacular names, and increased public-oriented digital content. Specimen data resulting from this project will be shared and accessible to all through