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7 de mayo de 2012

Superstars of botany: Rare specimens

Tomado de: Nature | News Feature
A handful of plant collectors has shaped the field of botany. Now they are disappearing, and there are no clear successors.

John Wood has had malaria twice, and Dengue fever once. He has shaved leeches off his legs with a machete in southeast Asia — “you're supposed to use a lit cigarette, but I don't smoke” — had his car stolen in Bolivia and lain face down in the Yemeni desert while local tribes exchanged gunfire over his head.

He encountered such inconveniences in the process of collecting more than 30,000 plant specimens over 40 years of travelling the globe, mostly as a hobbyist.

More than 100 of his finds have become type specimens, from which new species are described. Those numbers elevate him to the ranks of a star collector — the top 2% of botanical gatherers, who have accumulated more than half of the type specimens in some of the world's most important collections1. These elite field workers have probably numbered fewer than 500 people throughout history. But they have contributed much of what scientists know about plant diversity, ecology and evolution, and have been crucial in the race to document the world's plants before they are lost to deforestation, development, invasive species and climate change. 

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