The Museum's collections are used for research by more than 8,000 visiting scientists each year, and many thousands of specimens are sent on loan to other institutions for research purposes.
Scientists from the University of East Anglia, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and the Universities of Sussex and Kent have used the NHM botany collections and those of other institutions to look at how the flowering time of orchids varies with spring temperatures. They looked at recent field records of flowering date and temperature (1975-2006) for the UK Early Spider Orchid, Ophrys sphegodes, and compared these with historical temperature records and dated flowering specimens in collections (1848-1958).
Their research, published in the Journal of Ecology, showed that the orchids responded to temperature in the same way in the two periods. This means that collection specimens could be of significant value in looking at the responses of plants to past climate patterns for periods when there were no records kept of flowering dates.
This work indicates the potential value of collections for investigating ecological responses to climate and as research resources for new scientific interests.
Karen M. Robbirt, Anthony J. Davy, Michael J. Hutchings and David L. Roberts (2011) Validation of biological collections as a source of phenological data for use in climate change studies: a case study with the orchid Ophrys sphegodes. Journal of Ecology, 99, 235–241 doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2745.2010.01727.x