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Museums: The endangered dead

18 / 02 / 2015, Nature

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The billions of specimens in natural-history museums are becoming more useful for tracking Earth's shrinking biodiversity. But the collections also face grave threats.

Ricardo Moratelli (image right) surveys several hundred dead bats — their wings neatly folded — in a room deep inside the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC. He moves methodically among specimens arranged in ranks like a squadron of bombers on a mission. Attached to each animal's right ankle is a tag that tells Moratelli where and when the creature was collected, and by whom. Some of the tags have yellowed with age — they mark bats that were collected more than a century ago. Moratelli selects a small, compact individual with dark wings and a luxurious golden pelage. It fits easily in his cupped palm.

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