Estimating species relative abundances from museum records

1. Dated, geo-referenced museum specimens are a rich data source for reconstructing species' distribution and abundance patterns. However, museum records are potentially biased towards over-representation of rare species, and it is unclear whether museum records can be used to estimate relative abundance in the field. 2. We assembled 17 coupled field and museum datasets to quantitatively compare relative abundance estimates with the Dirichlet distribution. Collectively, these datasets comprise 73,039 museum records and 1,405,316 field observations of 2,240 species. 3. Although museum records of rare species overestimated relative abundance by 1-fold to over 100-fold (median study = 9.0), the relative abundance of species estimated from museum occurrence records was strongly correlated with relative abundance estimated from standardized field surveys (r2 range of 0.100.91, median study = 0.43). 4. These analyses provide a justification for estimating species relative abundance with carefully curated museum occurrence records, which may allow for the detection of temporal or spatial shifts in the rank ordering of common and rare species.