Marsh Director’s Choice Publication Award

The Marsh Director’s Choice Publication Award celebrates the best scientific publication of the year relating to Botanical Science, and can be given to the author of a book, journal issue, scientific paper or article.

Nina Davies, Clare Drinkell and Timothy Utteridge 2024

The Herbarium Handbook: Sharing Best Practice from Across the Globe”, published in 2023 

This 256 page publication contains over 700 colour photographs and has been described as the essential resource for botanists, herbarium managers and curators involved with the making and maintenance of herbarium collections. The book shares experiences from experts at Kew and also draws on examples from partners and collaborators around the world. 

The specimens deposited in the world’s herbaria constitute the most important source of information on the diversity and distribution of plant life on Earth. Therefore, appropriately caring for the collections, and making them accessible and useful to the global research community, is an institutional and scientific imperative. In an evidence-based and inclusive approach, Nina Davies and her colleagues have successfully integrated decades of experience from Kew’s staff with learnings from over 70 collaborators in 19 different herbaria around the world. The resulting publication is a prime example of how to popularise and disseminate critical knowledge with immediate application to support global scientific research and conservation. 

Previous Winners

Riccardo De Lutio

“The Herbarium 2021 Half–Earth Challenge Dataset and Machine Learning Competition”, published in Frontiers in Plant Science in 2022.  

This paper presents the ‘Herbarium 2021 Half-Earth Dataset’ – the largest and most diverse dataset of herbarium specimen images to date – in addition to the results of a competition to find the best models to accurately identify the specimens. It is a key milestone in the journey towards the automated processing and identification of specimens, and provides a glimpse of the future for herbaria everywhere. It evaluates the best deep learning approaches for the task and moves us closer towards being able to process and identify large numbers of specimens. 

Rodrigo Cámara-Leret 

New Guinea has the world’s richest island flora”, published in Nature in 2020.  

New Guinea is the world’s largest tropical island, and yet until the work of Rodrigo and his colleagues, there had been no known attempt to scientifically catalogue its extraordinary vascular plant diversity. The checklist they created as part of this study includes a staggering 13,634 species, 1,742 genera and 264 families. These figures suggest that New Guinea is the most floristically diverse island in the world and greatly in need of accelerated efforts to catalogue the diversity that remains unknown.  

This was a highly collaborative effort harnessing the expertise of a wide range of specialists, demonstrating that ‘international collaborative efforts using verified digital data can rapidly synthesise biodiversity information’. 

The globally distributed set of collections and datasets were crucial to the study, highlighting the imperative to digitise natural history collections. The text was accessible to multiple audiences, for example targeting both scientists and practitioners for maximum impact. 

The study highlights the importance of fieldwork and botanical science in reducing uncertainty around the problems and challenges of biodiversity loss. Rodrigo and colleagues have catalogued diversity in a highly biodiverse, low-income country with social challenges. This is exactly where botanical efforts are best focused – where anthropogenic pressures threaten diversity and there is a need to catalogue diversity in order to explore the sustainable use of natural resources.