While citizen science observations outnumber digitized specimen records from museum collections in GBIF, the opposite is true for taxonomic representation, as the most speciose citizen science datasets only contain about 20 per cent of the taxa represented in the largest museum collection datasets.
Recognizing the importance of digitizing natural history museum collections, this study provides an overview of the current state of plant and fungi collections worldwide while assessing the degree of digital accessibility and identifying main taxonomic and geographical gaps.
As of December 2019, there were 3,324 active herbaria across 178 countries containing more than 390 million specimens, though more than 45 per cent are found in European herbaria. In addition, around 107,000 plant species are represented in nearly 3,000 botanic gardens worldwide, with significant latitudinal bias as more than 90 per cent are held in northern, temperate institutions.
There are about 850,000 fungal strains available from 793 culture collections in 77 countries, but data from high-throughput sequencing suggests that millions of species are yet to be described. Only 17 per cent of described fungal species are cultured and publicly available. The study highlights initiatives such as UNITE for better understanding microbial diversity.
In terms of digitally accessible data, the study points to 85 million preserved specimens of plants and fungi available in GBIF, representing only around 21 per cent of all herbarium specimens (since the publication of the study, more than 10 million specimens have been added to GBIF).
The study finds that data in GBIF covers 90 per cent of vascular plant species but only 55 per cent of fungi. The main geographical gaps are in Northern Africa and South and Central Asia.