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Exhibit explores planet’s biological diversity

FEBRUARY 8, 2012
by Erikah Haavie, Contributing Writer

One by one, threads are gradually pulled out of a lush silk tapestry. At first, the tapestry seems unaffected, but it’s only a matter of time before the majestic tapestry starts to unravel.

The story of the Earth’s rich tapestry and its endangered species is currently being told through a new exhibit, “Diversity Endangered: Remnants from a Richer Past,” on display through April 20 on the second floor of the James B. Duke Library.

The natural history exhibit, presented by The Decorative and Fine Arts Collection and Special Collections and Archives, brings together a mix of treasures from Furman’s own collections alongside a display of 12 panels designed by the Smithsonian Institution and on loan from the South Carolina State Museum.

Vivid photos of life in tropical rainforests, coral reefs and other habitats worldwide highlight not only the diversity of life but the impact that human activities are having on plant and animal species.
Scientists are still trying to grasp the full scope of the planet’s biological diversity. While science has named and identified two million species, conservative estimates put the actual number of species at 10 million, said Wade Worthen, professor of biology.

At times, the loss of those “threads” from the Earth’s biodiversity may even mean losing species that haven’t been identified.

“We don’t think we can affect the planet Earth. It’s so huge,” said Worthen. “Collectively, we have huge effects.”

Mark Catesby, an 18th century naturalist from England, spent 25 years preparing the book, The Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands. One of his findings was the Carolina parakeet, a small green and yellow bird with an orange mask and a big voice. His etching of the now-extinct bird is on display at the library exhibit along with two porcelain figurines created by Dorothy Doughty. The Carolina parakeets are part of one of only three complete sets of North American birds in the country and are on display at White Oaks.

Through two oil paintings by Bayard Henry Tyler and Julius Hermann Kummer, the exhibit takes a trip to upstate New York to give a snapshot of what life was before hydroelectric power plants were either proposed or constructed in the 20th century. It travels to south and west Africa through a collection of carved animal horns, features the threatened mahogany species through a carved antique chair, and profiles the California condor in the 1883 Child’s Book of Nature.

The final portion of the exhibit offers a glimpse into the work of the Classics Department and the South Carolina Botanical Garden at Clemson, partners on an evolving digital library of historical botany extending from the ancient Greeks through the early exploration of the Carolinas.

It’s a unique opportunity to see some of Furman’s collections on display and learn about resources available to faculty and students, said Elizabeth Hamlett, university collections manager. The exhibit highlights Furman’s commitment to sustainability and ties into Global Water Awareness Month in March, said DebbieLee Landi, special collections librarian and university archivist.

It’s not too late to get involved.

The Campus as Habitat project is cataloging insects, fish, amphibians, reptiles, mammals and birds found across Furman’s 750 acres. The Furman Forest project, a collaborative effort by The Nature Conservancy, Spartanburg Water System, Tryon Water Commission, and Furman University, has made hundreds of acres near Landrum available as a research station for ongoing environmental science studies by Furman faculty and students.

“You don’t protect what you don’t appreciate. You don’t appreciate what you don’t know,” Worthen said.

“Diversity Endangered: Remnants from a Richer Past” is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday or by special appointment.

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