Natural History Museum curator writes final tome
“Bivalve Seashells of Western South America” has just been published by Paul Valentich-Scott, Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History curator emeritus of malacology
It is the third and final volume in a comprehensive series that is the authoritative guide to known bivalves of the western coast of the Americas.
Like previous volumes, the 593-page book was written with Mr. Valentich-Scott’s longtime co-author, SBMNH research associate Dr. Eugene V. Coan. For this volume, the two were joined by Dr. Diego G. Zelaya, a researcher at the University of Buenos Aires in Argentina. Many of the book’s thousands of color photographs were taken by Vanessa Delnavaz, the SBMNH invertebrate zoology collection manager,
Bivalves — aquatic mollusks like oysters, clams, mussels and scallops — rarely play a starring role in spectacular nature documentaries, but they do play important roles in nature, often as filter feeders that clean water by eating microscopic plants and detritus. Many of these species are also of crucial economic importance to aquaculture.
As human impacts in the oceans increase, it’s critical that people have a basic grasp of the biodiversity their actions are already undermining.
This project began in the late 1980s. Decades later, the team has documented bivalves from Arctic Alaska to southern Chile. Earlier volumes have provided important support for the ongoing expansion of scientific knowledge of bivalves
“The previous two volumes have been cited in the scientific literature over 2,000 times in peer-reviewed journals and books. This is the first time a comprehensive guide to the bivalves has been completed for such a large part of our globe. It’s a major accomplishment for our moderate-sized natural history museum and demonstrates how important preserving biodiversity is to our mission,” said Mr. Valentich-Scott.
“I feel so fortunate to have been given permission to work on such a massive project for the museum. Multiple museum directors gave the books their blessing and understood the importance of this type of baseline biodiversity research.
“I remember chatting with one of my colleagues at Harvard University, and he was amazed at how our institution supported such long term research. At his institution, they require many smaller research projects to be published and are less interested in these large, time-intensive projects, i.e., publish or perish.”
Mr. Valentich-Scott started working at SBMNH in 1982 and retired in February 2019. The massive project took the following time to complete, and the three volumes cover Northern Alaska to northern Baja California, Northern Baja California to northern Peru and Northern Peru to southern Chile.
“Retiring last year gave me more time to complete this volume. Without managing employees or working on the collection, I devoted most of my time to writing and photography,” Mr. Valentich-Scott said.
“For Volume 3, in addition to the Smithsonian and the Academy of Sciences in Philadelphia, I traveled to England, France, Argentina and Mexico. I also borrowed specimens or received photos from Peru, Chile, Germany, Sweden, Russia and New Zealand, along with the countries previously listed. Gene Coan made one collecting trip to Peru, and Diego Zelaya and his colleagues have collected extensively in Chile.