Loans and exchange program
When researching a particular plant group, botanists need to examine a broad range of herbarium material in order to get a comprehensive overview of the taxa being studied. Because most herbaria hold plant specimens collected from outside their local area, the transfer of specimens between institutions is an important aspect of botanical research. Specimens can be transferred between herbaria on a temporary basis (as loans) or on a permanent basis (as part of a specimen exchange program).
The National Herbarium of Victoria (MEL) lends, borrows and exchanges over 20,000 specimens each year.
MEL regularly loans specimens to, and borrows specimens from, other Australian and international herbaria, much like an interlibrary loan system. Loans may consist of a single specimen, or several thousand specimens, depending on the research requirements of the botanist.
MEL has a particularly strong international loans program, due to the large foreign component of our collection and because many Australian specimens collected in the 19th century are now housed in foreign herbaria.
Herbaria have a longstanding tradition of exchanging plant specimens. MEL has exchange agreements with all major Australian herbaria and many international herbaria.
Where possible, a botanist will collect enough material from one plant to make multiple specimens. One specimen is retained at the original herbarium and the remaining material is sent to one or more herbaria as duplicate specimens.
The exchange of herbarium specimens allows herbaria to expand the geographical coverage of their holdings, thus providing valuable comparative material. The distribution of duplicates also insures specimens against loss or damage.
In addition to duplicates received from other herbaria, MEL also receives donations from individuals or institutions. Donations may be single specimens or an entire private herbarium.
Regulations governing herbarium loans and exchange
Various Australian and international laws govern the loan and exchange of herbarium specimens. Internationally, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) ensures that trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.
Australia has strict laws governing what can be brought into the country. Herbarium material is subject to inspection by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) Biosecurity agency (formerly AQIS) to ensure that parcels are free of the risk of exotic pests and diseases.