The value is based in the unique characteristics of each specimen. Sometimes the uniqueness is due to the time and location the specimen was collected.
Sometimes a specimen is unique because of its set of characteristics, such as measurements, colors, gender, or biochemical components. Scientists compare skulls and skins from different individuals to learn about variation in these characteristics.
A pocket gopher collected as part of a series, that is one of several collected at one time and one place, is valuable. It helps us learn about variation, such as variation in hair color, or variation in body size. It might be unique if it is unusually large, or an unusual color.
For scientists, the value of a specimen is measured in information and the key to knowledge. For teachers and museum docents, the value is measured by how well a specimen illustrates a concept or a fact. For artists, the value is measured by how well a specimen can serve as a model.
For YOU—the value may be measured in many ways!
Is the value ever measured in dollars? It can be, such as the value of minerals that might be sold at gem and mineral shows. For the vast majority of our 7,500,000 specimens, however, there is no market value and we don't try to put a 'resale' dollar value on the specimens. The dollar value reflects the cost of collecting and taking care of the specimens, as well as the cost of making information available for use.
Each specimen is unique and can never truly be replaced. Each is collected at a single point in time, from a specific geographic location, and has a unique genetic or geologic history.
Has your neighborhood changed since you were born? Or since your parents or grandparents moved here? Most neighborhoods have changed a great deal. More houses and stores have been built, more roads have been developed.
When the first San Diegans collected plants and animals in the late 1870s, there weren't any roads or houses or stores--just natural lands. So their collections were different than what you find in your neighborhood today.
If we destroy a plant or animal specimen collected in 1881, we can never replace that specimen!
What are the costs and problems of acquiring a specimen?
Problems of finding a specimen:
Some kinds or species are not available at all. For example marine species, extinct species, endangered species, or threatened species. Most require some type of permit to obtain and to hold. Most mammal and bird specimens can be obtained only with federal and state permits. Locations for collecting may be difficult to visit, or inaccessible. Guadalupe Island Expedition Construction sites that expose fossil material temporarily
Costs of time:
It takes time for staff person to find the right kind or species; time for staff at other institutions to locate one for us and send it; time for a staff member to prepare the specimen for research; or time required to find someone else, such as a taxidermist, to mount the specimen in a life-like pose.
Costs of materials:
Materials are require to collect the specimens; prepare or mount the specimen; to protect the mounted specimen; the costs of taking care of specimens and making information available. Good quality cabinets, effective heating and air conditioning systems Information systems (the computers, printers, software), and staff to manage and care for the collections are all necessary to their preservation.