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ASU Natural History Collections Grant Award

May 02, 2012

Angelo State University has been awarded a $480,865 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to upgrade the Angelo State Natural History Collections (ASNHC) housed in the university’s Biology Department.

The grant will fund a three-year project titled “Modernization and Digitization of the Angelo State Natural History Collections.” 

The primary goal of the project is to improve researcher and educator access to the 120,000 specimens of plants, mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and tissue samples in the ASNHC.  The data associated with the specimens and digital images of plant specimens will be made available to researchers around the world.  ASU faculty curators and students will complete the data entry to update the ASNHC’s Specify database, including geo-referencing specimens, updating software and making all data available through existing biodiversity portals.  Specific Web-based learning modules for K-12 and university-level students will be created, specimen holding facilities will be modernized and integrated pest management systems will be updated to protect the collections.

“The curators are obviously all thrilled about this award,” said Dr. Loren Ammerman, associate professor of biology and curator of the Frozen Tissues Collection.  “Although the ASNHC has been an important resource in many of the classes we teach at ASU and for scientific research worldwide, it has been somewhat ‘hidden’ from the scientific community.  This award will allow us to develop an interactive website that will increase the visibility of the collection, and it will fund important updates that will increase access to the plant and animal specimens.  We are also excited about developing biodiversity learning modules on the website that can be used in conjunction with our ‘Science Days’ program to enrich the learning experience for local fourth graders.” 

According to the NSF, the ASU project is part of the 10-year NSF “Collections in Support of Biological Research” program to digitize and mobilize the scientific information associated with biological specimens held in U.S. research collections.  The images and digitized data from the ASU project will later be integrated into the iDigBio national resource for digitization of biological collections.

The ASNHC are housed in the Cavness Science Building on the ASU campus, and are primary learning and research components for ASU students and faculty, as well as key outreach and public education tools for the Biology Department.  Each year, the collections are viewed by thousands of K-12 students through special programs like ASU Science Days and home school tours.  The department also conducts reserved tours and open houses for student groups, garden clubs, other organizations and the general public.

ASU faculty curators are Ammerman, Frozen Tissues Collection; Dr. Robert Dowler, Mammals Collection; Dr. Terry Maxwell, Birds Collection; Dr. Bonnie Amos, Plants Collection (Herbarium); and Dr. Mike Dixon, Amphibians and Reptiles Collection. 

The Herbarium is the oldest and largest collection with more than 80,000 plant specimens, making it one of the largest in the state and the most complete floristic inventory of the Concho Valley.  It also serves as a permanent depository for voucher specimens for floristic surveys of several distinctive areas in West Texas, including Big Bend National Park, Texas Nature Conservancy Big Brushy Canyon and Texas Nature Conservancy Independence Creek. Specimens resulting from several ecological and systematic studies of rare plants are also housed in the collection.  The specimens are pressed, dried, mounted on archival paper and stored in metal museum cabinets. 

The bird, amphibian and reptile, and mammal collections were all started in the 1960s.  Collectively, they house about 30,000 animal specimens from Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Montana and Oregon as well as Mexico, South America, Africa, Asia and the Galapagos Islands.  The Mammals Collection is accredited by the American Society of Mammalogists Systematic Collections Committee. 

The Frozen Tissues Collection is the newest component of the ASNHC.  It was started in the mid-1980s and contains about 9,000 specimens.  The frozen tissues allow genetic analyses of DNA and proteins, which can be used to examine the evolutionary relationships among species and to identify disease agents, such as viruses, carried by a species. 

More information on the ASNHC is available online at