The plight of natural history collections is regrettable, as you report in the News story “Natural history collections in crisis as funding is slashed” (Nature 423, 575; 200310.1038/423575a). You cite some examples of such collections in jeopardy, including the University of Iowa herbarium collection which is being moved to Iowa State University. In an era when state budgets are shrinking and debt is increasing, we feel that this cooperative venture is the most responsible way of managing and caring for a resource unique to the state.

The collections are not in jeopardy, as you suggest, but are being consolidated. As the state land-grant university, Iowa State University maintains active programmes in plant sciences, including an herbarium, while the University of Iowa has emphasized plant molecular biology.

The University of Iowa herbarium has not been a major research/teaching tool for many years. During 1998–2002, work at the Iowa State herbarium was cited in 75 publications, while work at the University of Iowa herbarium resulted in some 18 citations. Similarly, only two courses now use the herbarium at the University of Iowa, whereas herbarium use has remained steady at Iowa State. To ensure that the few faculty members at the University of Iowa using the resource have continued access, we will support travel between the two universities and have agreed that specimens needed for ongoing research may be kept on long-term loan.

Our intention is to retain all specimens that are not duplicated; the Iowa State herbarium has already applied for funds to accommodate the merged collections. If it becomes necessary to disperse some specimens, we will relocate them at institutions where they will be maintained and cared for. We began this process in the mid-1980s, when the bulk of the University of Iowa fungal collection was transferred to Iowa State University. Even if Iowa State cannot accommodate the entire remaining University of Iowa herbarium, it will keep all material collected in Iowa.