Museum Specimens

Through my work as an assistant curator of birds and mammals at the UWSP Museum of Natural History and a summer internship at the U.S. National Museum, Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. I have come to have a great appreciation for museum collections.

UWSP whale skull

Museum voucher specimens have long been used to help answer ecological questions relating to the distribution, reproductive timing and output, and morphological variation of species. With new advances in molecular techniques, statistical modeling, and isotope ecology, the use of museum specimens has become increasingly important for understand genetic relatedness of species and populations and temporal changes in distributions and diets of species. From museum specimens, new species of mammals continue to be discovered within collections. Finally, study skins and osteological specimens are important for universities and other institutions to train students on how to identify species or morphological structures.

Museum collections are analogous to libraries, deriving their value from housing a variety of taxa and both older specimens along with newer acquisitions. However, despite the increased use of museum specimens in ecological and evolutionary studies, considerably less attention and resources have been devoted to continued collecting and preparation of voucher specimens than in the past. Furthermore, fewer students are trained in the preparation or appreciation of voucher specimens, jeopardizing the future of museums. To this end, I have made it a point to prepare voucher specimens from my own research and train future researchers in the vouchering process.

Voucher specimens generally include study skins, skeletons, and tissue samples. To date, I have vouchered over 4,200 specimens from pygmy shrews to mountain lions and from hummingbirds to a tundra swan. I also maintain a dermestid beetle colony to clean animal skulls and skeletons. During my masters work, I oversaw the preparation of nearly 1,200 small mammal voucher specimens from throughout the state of Wisconsin. I distributed these specimens in 5 museums across the US, so that they would be assessable to researchers throughout the country. Additionally, through teaching mammalogy labs and recruiting volunteers, I have trained over 100 students on how to prepare voucher specimens.

Currently, with the help of enthusiastic undergraduate students at UNH, I’m working on preparing voucher specimens collected by the USFS in NH as only about 8% of voucher specimens from the granite state were prepared in the last three decades. I continue to work with the Smithsonian and other museums such as Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History and Utah Museum of Natural History, providing specimens for their collections while also building the teaching collection at UNH.

Museum Collaborations

  • University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point Museum of Natural History, Stevens Point, WI
  • National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
  • Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, CT
  • Natural History Museum of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT
  • Monte L. Bean Life Science Museum, Provo, UT
  • Museum of Southwestern Biology, Albuquerque, NM
  • University of Alaska Museum, Fairbanks, AK
  • Oakland Museum of California, Oakland, CA
  • Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology, Cambridge, MA