One reason island biology is so interesting is that plants and animals on an island are often different from related organisms on the mainlandsometimes different enough to be considered separate subspecies or even separate species. Islands serve as laboratories of evolution, providing a model of processes that take place on a larger scale on the continents. Researchers who study plant relationships are very interested in examining how plants collected on islands compare to the same kinds of plants collected in other places.
Jon Rebman is carrying with him a "shopping list" of requests from researchers across the country, for collections of plant material in the groups of plants they study. They'll need not only pressed voucher specimens, but also things like desiccated leaves for DNA extraction, buds preserved in alcohol for chromosome counts, and seeds to grow in greenhouses. In order to fill these requests, Jon needs to be able to recognize the plants even if they're not in prime collecting condition.
The botanical team is also searching for any sign of the many plant taxa (species, subspecies, varieties) that are thought to be extinct altogether, or extirpated from the island, or that have been reported as being nearly extirpated. Again, in order to recognize these plants, the botanists need to be able to identify them even at a very young stage, or in sterile condition.
A good herbarium, like the one at the Museum, is an essential tool in preparing for tasks like these. Examining the specimens allows botanists to familiarize themselves with the plants they may never have seen in person. And knowing where each species has been found in the past helps them choose places to search on this trip. But...the herbarium has over a thousand specimens collected on Guadalupe Island over the last century, and these specimens have to stay safely in their storage cabinets. Wouldn't it be nice to have this resource available on this trip? It is!
The full label data records for each of the 1040 specimens in the herbarium is being carried in a computer database, with a summarizing printout for each of the botanists. And the herbarium staff scanned high-resolution images of about fifty specimens of island endemics found on Guadalupe Island, and made a CDROM of these images for each of the botanists.
It may not be exactly like having the herbarium along on the trip, but it's the next-best thing!
Scan of Eschscholzia palmeri, one of three species of Eschscholzia endemic to Guadalupe Island. This is the same genus as the California Poppy.