Utilizing herbarium specimens to assist with the listing of rare plants

Brenda Molano-Flores, Sara A. Johnson, Paul B. Marcum, Mary Ann Feist

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Funding for rare plant conservation is limited. In addition, many aspects of the biology and ecology of rare plants are unknown. Therefore, low-cost data generation approaches to fill these gaps should be pursued. Herbarium specimens can be used as a low-cost alternative to learn about the basic biology and ecology of rare plant species. The information provided on herbarium labels has dramatically increased in recent decades to include precise locality (i.e., latitude/longitude), exact dates, habitat, associated species, and substrate. In addition, herbarium specimens are being digitized and the resulting images and data are available via clearinghouses such as GBIF and SEINet. Already, herbarium specimens of rare plants have been used to develop habitat suitability models, predict range shifts, and assess changes in flower phenology due to climate change. Herbarium specimens can also provide a wealth of information about the reproductive biology and biotic interactions of rare plants. In this paper, we will demonstrate how this information can be accessed and present a practical application for using this information to populate an important federal listing document in the USA, Species Status Assessments (SSA). We will provide examples from the literature, as well as case studies from our own research, to demonstrate how this information can be collected from herbarium specimens and how and where to incorporate this information into SSAs. More generally, data gleaned from herbarium specimens can become part of a conservationist’s tool kit to further our knowledge of past, present, and future trends for rare plants. Additional knowledge of a species’ biology and ecology allows land managers and conservationists to make more informed decisions and allows for greater protection of listed species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1144593
JournalFrontiers in Conservation Science
StatePublished - 2023


  • Species Status Assessments
  • fruit set
  • herbarium specimens
  • plant-insect interactions
  • rare plants

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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