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Unforeseen importance of historical collections as baselines to determine biotic change of coral reefs: the Saba Bank case

Authors


Bert W. Hoeksema, Department of Marine Zoology, Netherlands Centre for Biodiversity Naturalis, PO Box 9517, 2300 RA Leiden, the Netherlands.
E-mail: bert.hoeksema@ncbnaturalis.nl

Abstract

Botanical and zoological collections may serve as archives for historical ecological research on the effects of global change and human impact on coral reef biota. Museum collections may harbour old specimens of reef-dwelling species that have become locally extinct. Such collections also help to determine whether early records of invasive species can be obtained from times when they were not yet recognized as such. A case study (2006) involving Saba Bank, Caribbean Netherlands (former Netherlands Antilles), suggests that the coral reef fauna here may have become impoverished when compared with data obtained during an earlier expedition in 1972. However, the 1972 sampling may have been incomplete, as it was performed by professional divers who were not trained taxonomists, whereas the collecting in 2006 was done by experienced marine biologists who knew the taxa they were sampling. As Saba Bank has been under stress due to the anchoring of large vessels, and invasive species have been a potential threat as well, future studies are needed to obtain more insights into the changing reef biota of Saba Bank. Using this Saba Bank example, we want to address the importance of natural history collections as reservoirs of valuable data relevant to coral reef biodiversity studies in a time of global change. As such, these collections are still underexplored and underexploited.

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