The role of a botany curator
Dr Patrick Brownsey is the Senior Curator Natural Environment at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington. Patrick explains what his job involves.
Point of interest:
- Technology has changed some aspects of Patrick’s job as a curator. Do you think virtual herbaria will ever replace the actual plant collections?
DR PATRICK BROWNSEY
Here at Te Papa we have the opportunity to be involved in taxonomy and biosystematics. We have a very large collection of plants here. That’s the major role for curators at Te Papa is to look after the collections of reference plants, whether they be ferns or any other group of plants or animals. We need to house this collection safely and securely, and we have collection managers whose responsibility that is.
So new material coming in that we may collect, or other people may collect, it needs to be properly dried and prepared and then needs to be mounted usually onto cardboard sheets to give it some rigidity. We need to make sure there is a label giving all the details of what it is, where it’s been collected from, who collected it, and then, these days, we put all of that information into an electronic database as well.
When I first started working at Te Papa, we didn’t have the advantage of computers, and you just had to read labels to find out where different species had been collected from. We actually have something now called the New Zealand Virtual Herbarium, which is a single site that people can go to and they can see the collections of plants that we have here, but at the same time access the plants that are held at the Auckland Museum or at Landcare Research or a variety of university herbaria. So you can get a distribution map for a species based on all the collections around the country, not just from the one place.