Scientific animal research could be compromised by a reliance on modern sampling methods instead of using "whole body" specimens.
This could have long-term implications for the integrity of animal specimen collections, a new paper has warned.
As climate change threatens to alter ecosystems in ways yet to be fully understood, researchers from Museum Victoria and the state government's Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research have argued the scientific value of collections can only be maintained if "whole body" specimens continue to be collected.
Technology has proved overwhelmingly useful in the field - with scientists now able to make video and audio recordings, photograph and even document precisely where samples were collected using GPS.
Tissue samples obtained from a clip of a marsupial's ear or scale clip from a snake are appealing because they are "non-destructive": they don't require the animal to die. But the DNA information in a tissue sample is often limited.
"Technology offers powerful new tools that mean we can do so much more," said Arthur Rylah senior scientist Nick Clemann. "But it doesn't mean that we should stop doing what we used to do."
The paper, published online in the journal Memoirs of Museum Victoria this month, argues that sometimes the tissue samples taken provide enough genetic material only for a single research project. Other times, the material's use is limited because it doesn't contain the full molecular picture that the entire specimen would reveal.
Museum Victoria senior curator of mammals Kevin Rowe said despite advances in technology, fieldworkers should still think "on a centennial scale".
"We're studying the past, collecting in the present with an eye to the students of the future," Dr Rowe said.
He said for the smoky mouse, it remained unclear if there were two species because there were to few specimens in collections to differentiate the western population from the eastern population.
"It's one example of where a lack of specimens have made it hard to make a decision," Dr Rowe said.
This week Australian researchers discovered of a new species of seadragon, thanks in large part to being able to call on complete museum specimens.
Outlined in the journal Royal Society Open Science on Wednesday, the West Australian seadragon was discovered both through DNA sequencing and establishing skeletal differences between the new species and two other species in museum collections.
A lead author on the paper, Mr Clemann said it proved traditional sampling provided a more complete record because they included details such as a species' colour, internal structure, diet, sex and reproductive data.
"If you only have the genetic information then you can't confirm it is a new species," he said. "You need these specimens to do that."
But it's not just about describing new species. Museum collections can also reveal other changes over time.
In the mid-20th century, the impact of the insecticide DDT was discovered by using museum collections of egg shells, which revealed the shells were thinning. This was traced back to DDT and resulted in legislative changes banning the use of the insecticide.
"There are remarkably broad applications," he said. "What we might have in 200 years from now is anyone's guess, so there is also this unknown future discovery potential as well."