International trade in the 18th and 19th centuries propelled animal specimens into museums and private collections all over the globe. Early museums gathered curiosities of the natural world in magnificent cabinets, creating displays of strange, monstrous and beautiful animals and minerals. These collections now contribute to our understanding of species, both their form and their geographic distribution.
Natural Selections showcases some of the most intriguing bird, mammal, fish, insect and invertebrate specimens from the Macleay Collections of natural history, largely collected by members of the Scottish Macleay family who emigrated to Australia from 1826. Featured specimens include a cattle egret acquired from Madagascar well before the species was first seen in Australia, and a magnificent display of Australian cockatoos, illustrating the classificatory systems created by scientists to give order to the enormous number and variety of specimens.
As temperatures rise by 1.5˚C animals are facing uncertain futures. Museum collections are providing scientists with critical base information, allowing them to detect shifts in distribution patterns and develop theories on species evolution. These historic collections are critical for understanding how species respond to changing environments.
Featured image (top of page): Pachyrrhynchus gemmatus (Waterhouse 1841), NHEN.7057