Dr. Wei Xiao displays one plant specimen out of the thousands housed in the University of Guam Herbarium
A unique and diverse range of flora native to Micronesia will soon be properly preserved for people around the world to study and observe.
The University of Guam hosts the largest functional herbarium in the region and the only one in the Mariana Islands. A herbarium is a collection of plants and their data used for scientific study.
Over the years, the specimens have outgrown the space to house them. But recently, UOG was awarded nearly $100,000 through the Museums for America grant to complete necessary upgrades. With the award came a matching donation from a person very close to the heart of the University— the late Dr. Lynn Raulerson. Her generosity brought the total award amount to about $200,000 to be spread out over a three-year period.
“When you do museum work, you have to be crazy passionate about it,” said Dr. Wei Xiao, assistant professor of biology and the UOG Herbarium’s curator. “I'm so excited about this award. For researchers and students from off island, they don’t just have to study what’s in their backyard. They can study things in other regions, and that exchange only happens in a modern herbarium.”
Dr. Lynn Raulerson managed the UOG Herbarium until her death in 2012. Xiao took over as curator in 2014.
Improvements to the UOG Herbarium, which will start right away, include organizing the plant samples into a database and digitizing their information. Xiao also wants to replace equipment and materials that have worn down over the years.
The importance of the UOG Herbarium rests in the ability to share its information to those locally and overseas. With the new digitization of the specimens, people from around the world can study the endemic plants of the Micronesian region.
“With the new upgrades, people who are outside of Guam can have access to what we have,” Xiao said. “We can create research interests and conservation interests and use this as a way to advertise what we have. Hopefully we’re going to bring a lot more attention, effort and resources to help better understand our ecosystem.”