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The collections of past and contemporary plants and animals document dramatic temporal changes in biodiversity. Museum botanists study the impacts of environmental and human change on past and present plant distributions in Illinois. The vegetation of Illinois has changed dramatically through time: Studies of endangered plants are aimed at preserving biodiversity in the face of habitat loss. Studies of contemporary bird and insect populations also document the trend of declining species diversity. Many species that once thrived in Illinois are preserved only in the natural history collections.

Studies of genetic diversity, important for understanding and preserving biodiversity, have profited from breakthroughs in DNA research. The Museum's new DNA laboratory enables scientists to study DNA preserved in ancient specimens as well as modern organisms. Creation of a "Jurassic Park" or even "Pleistocene Park" is not a reality yet, but the new DNA techniques make possible the study of the population genetics of extinct species and increases the research value of museum collections.

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© Illinois State Museum Society-- Last updated 21-Mar-96 by Erich Schroeder