Unlocking avian museum collections to enable and advance environmental change research

Ken Norris, Alexander L. Bond, Joanna H. Cooper, Mark P. Adams, Hein van Grouw, Judith White, Martin Stervander, Douglas G.D. Russell, Simon P. Loader

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The rate and magnitude of contemporary changes in natural systems is unprecedented in the Earth's history. Studies of wild birds have been critically important in helping us understand and address these environmental changes. Avian collections provide a potentially unique perspective on change through time, but their role in environmental change research is limited by the availability of collections data. Here we describe how avian collections might be unlocked to enable environmental change research, and discuss the opportunities and constraints associated with this. We use the concept of the extended specimen to describe the types of data that could be unlocked from basic data for discoverability to enhanced data that might be directly applied to environmental change questions. We illustrate the type of environmental change research these data might support. We argue that data creation and access is currently limited by funding for digitization, a rather patchy understanding of the needs of the research community and less than adequate data-sharing by institutions and researchers. We develop a blueprint for addressing these issues which includes (1) improvements in sharing the data we are already creating and (2) building a better case for digitization at scale. As one of the largest avian collections in the world, the Natural History Museum, UK, is committed to unlocking our collections, but we will need input and support from the avian research community to do so.

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 15 Sept 2023


  • Avian collections
  • conservation biology
  • ecology
  • evolution
  • museum


Dive into the research topics of 'Unlocking avian museum collections to enable and advance environmental change research'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this