The facilities housing collections at BARC were not originally designed for that task, but have been modified with varying levels of success to fulfill the need for permanent maintenance of biological specimens and associated information. A major challenge is represented for long-term maintenance, expansion and curation of the world heritage collections that are currently held in their entirety at BARC. The US National Fungus Collection, the US National Parasite Collection (USNPC) and the USDA Nematode Collection are the largest global research repositories for mycology, parasitology and nematology. Significant holdings of the US National Museum Entomological Collection, the largest in the world, are also held at BARC, and SEL scientists oversee collections in Beltsville and at the U. S. National Museum of Natural History (USNM) in Washington, D.C. Conceptually, a world heritage collection is one that is historically significant and irreplaceable and serves as a major foundation or cornerstone of a discipline; by all measures BARC collections serve that critical role for science infrastructure.
Systematics facilities at BARC are generally old, and maintenance has represented a considerable challenge. Renovations to buildings have been plagued by poor design and planning and lack of coordination, often with minimal discussion among contractors, BARC engineers, and scientists. Building integrity, availability of environmentally controlled spaces, appropriate cabinets and storage capacity, and the capability for rapid fire suppression vary among the laboratories and collections. Controls for ventilation, humidity and temperature are generally inadequate, and may represent a threat to long-term storage of specimens and records, the continuity of research programs, and the health of personnel. Currently occupied facilities date from the 1930's with the exception of Building 011A, constructed about 1970, which houses the NL and SBML. The SEL now occupies the basement of Building 005, a space that is suboptimum for research and collections. The USNPC has been housed in Building 1180 since 1960. As an example of the current situation, the original facility was designed as a barn for guinea pigs, and over the years since its construction in 1936, it has been extensively modified and retrofitted.
Overall the systematics labs and capabilities are now balkanized across the Beltsville Area. This situation reduces effective communication and interaction within disciplines and labs, and shared use of some instrumentation. A potential long-term solution is development of a centralized facility that can accommodate research and informatics activities and physical specimens collections in environmentally controlled spaces while accounting for the unique needs of the diverse array of laboratories involved in the systematics program. A model for a multidisciplinary systematics facility might include partners such as the Department of Systematic Biology from the Smithsonian Institution, the Army's Walter Reed Biosystematics Unit, and the nearby academic community.
The last decade has seen a major trend toward consolidation of laboratory and office space. Insufficient office space for scientists and staff, and crowded laboratories are now commonplace. This situation is exacerbated by ever increasing demands on space and facilities by post docs, visiting and collaborating scientists, and independent scientists seeking to work in the respective collections. Examples of this ongoing challenge are seen in the USNPC, which has lost over a third of its office and lab space since 1995. In the SBML one office houses 4-6 scientists depending on the numbers of visitors working at this facility. Laboratories are left with limited or no possibilities for expansion, a factor which could influence our abilities to effectively respond to newly identified problems that require solutions based on systematics.
Molecular systematics is now an integral component of all laboratories at BARC. The SEL has one molecular lab to cover the megadiversity represented by agriculturally important arthropods. This facility is currently not co-located with the core of the entomology group. The SBML has two molecular labs acquired through recent program expansion. The NL maintains a single molecular lab, with research focused on diagnostics, and limited systematics applications. Across the 3 parasitology laboratories (PBESL, IDRL, AWPL) there are 3-4 molecular labs, but only one (in the former systematics unit of PBESL) that is focused entirely on systematics; others address diagnostics or epidemiology and employ limited systematics methodology. Long-term planning for development of frozen tissue collections has not been initiated. A policy for archiving of materials from survey of pathogens, pests and parasites, and linkage of such frozen collections via vouchers to the specimens-based repositories has not been articulated except for the U.S. National Fungus Collections. Current materials and specimens used in molecular systematics are stored generally on an ad hoc basis. An effective strategy for handling molecular elements associated with collections should be developed and funded.