How many of us have dreamed of using a time machine to see living dinosaurs in their Mesozoic prime? We are left with only lifeless fossil bones. How wonderful it would be to bring back a living dinosaur, or at least a preserved specimen, or even a photograph, or even the memory of a glaring eye! We can't of course, because they are long gone, and we don't have time machines.

In 500 years we will wish we had time machines to come back to 2012. We will look at the early third millennium as the last days of the Garden of Eden, the last days when biodiversity was largely intact. In 500 years, we may very well find ourselves in a post-biodiversity world. Intense rainforests, vibrant deserts, and bustling coral reefs will probably seem as distant to us as big dinosaurs are today.

Some days, I imagine that I am a time traveller, come back from 500 years in the future. I have a few years in which to do my field work before I return. How lucky I am to have been entrusted by my 26th century colleagues with this task, but how frustrating that I will have time to just scratch the surface. So many locations, so many species, will remain unsampled.

Once I am done sampling, I need to send the specimens 500 years into the future. I can't send them live, but even to send good quality specimens is wonderful for 26th century biologists, for species that would otherwise be known from fossils, or in the case of small spiders, not at all.

What does my time machine look like? Well, I have good news for you. There is a time machine to send specimens 500 years into the future. It's called a natural history museum. Those who work in natural history museums do indeed think in terms of centuries -- they see theirs as an almost sacred task, transcending the fluctuating fashions of the decades. But, I have bad news. It will take 500 years of curatorial salaries to get the specimens to the 26th century. It's not much compared to the expenditures of space exploration or molecular biology, but science funding agencies normally don't focus on centuries-long projects. How do you think we'll feel in 500 years if we fail to preserve specimens of 2012 biodiversity?

Of course, it would be far better to keep habitats intact and biodiversity alive in the wild. But, I'm not counting on our having even half the necessary wisdom. And so, next chance I get, I'll be lacing up my boots, strapping on my bags, grabbing my beating sheet and stick, and heading down the trail.

Previously in this series:

Spiders in Borneo: Introduction

Spiders in Borneo: Undiscovered biodiversity

Spiders in Borneo: The guests of honor: Salticidae

Spiders in Borneo: Team Salticid

Spiders in Borneo: Mulu National Park

Spiders in Borneo: Dreaming about salticid spiders

Spiders in Borneo: Jumping spiders in the forest

Spiders in Borneo: Beating around the bushes

Spiders in Borneo: Spiders in leaf litter

Spiders in Borneo: A Vertical Life

Spiders in Borneo: Leeches and eyeballs

Spiders in Borneo: Breaking News!

Spiders in Borneo: Falling from above

Spiders in Borneo: What I carry

Spiders in Borneo: Entangled and pierced

Spiders in Borneo: Scattered literature

Spiders in Borneo: Mulu wrap-up

Spiders in Borneo: Lambir Hills

Spiders in Borneo: Replaying the Tape of Life

Spiders in Borneo: More Hispo at Lambir

Spiders in Borneo: Geometrical Jumping spiders

Spiders in Borneo: Trees that grow from sky to ground

Spiders in Borneo: The spiders who wouldn’t be

Spiders in Borneo: The Music of Biodiversity

Spiders in Borneo: Jumping spider rainbow

Spiders in Borneo: Top ten animal encounters

Text and images © W. Maddison, under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license (CC-BY)