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Mammal Collections in the Western Hemisphere a survey and Directory of Existing Collections

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Mammal Collections in the Western Hemisphere

A Survey and Directory of Existing Collections

This document is also available on the home page of the American Society of Mammalogists ( Corrections and additions to the directory should be sent to Mark Hafner ( or William Gannon (

For additional information contact: Robert M. Timm, Productions Editor

Museum of Natural History

University of Kansas

Lawrence, KS 66045-2454

Telephone: 913-864-4180

FAX: 913-864-5335


Published by the American Society of Mammalogists

Allen Press

Lawrence, Kansas

ISBN 0-89338-055-5


Mammal Collections in the

Western Hemisphere

A Survey and Directory of Existing Collections

Mark S. Hafner, William L. Gannon, Jorge Salazar-Bravo,

and Sergio Ticul Alvarez-Castañeda

Museum of Natural Science and Department of Biological Sciences,

Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA 70803 (MSH)
Museum of Southwestern Biology, University of New Mexico,

Albuquerque, NM 87131 (WLG, JSB)
Centro de Investigaciones Biológicas del Noroeste, La Paz,

Baja California Sur, Mexico 23000 (STA-C)

May, 1997

Published by the

American Society of Mammalogists




Purpose 3

Scope 3

Survey questionnaire 4

Response 4

Number and geographic distribution of collections 4

Number of specimens and their distribution 6

Taxonomic and geographic representation 6

Special preparations and ancillary collections 8

Frozen-tissue collections 9

Holotypes 9

Use of collections 9

Sources of support 10

Personnel 11

Curatorial standards and policies 11

Catalogues 12

Computerization 12

Protection of collections 12

Loans 13

Accreditation 14





APPENDIX I.Latin American collections that did not respond to this survey 73

APPENDIX II.Collections that have been incorporated into other collections 77

APPENDIX III.Bibliography of catalogues of type specimens 79

APPENDIX IV.Publication series associated with collections of mammals 80

APPENDIX V.Basic curatorial standards for systematic collections of mammals 82

APPENDIX VI.Mammal collections accredited by the ASM 84

APPENDIX VII.Alphabetical index of collection acronyms 86

Mammal Collections in the Western Hemisphere
Throughout its history, the American Society of Mammalogists (ASM) has undertaken periodic assessments of the location, size, composition, and curatorial status of collections of Recent mammals in North America. The first such report, authored by A. Brazier Howell (1923) and published in the Journal of Mammalogy, appeared just 4 years after the ASM was founded. Howell (1923:113) stated two principal reasons for conducting his survey of mammal collections:
“The larger museums are relatively sufficient unto themselves as regards research material; but the smaller ones, as well as unattached individuals, are often handicapped by their inability to secure, either by purchase or loan, specimens which they may badly need for investigations. The primary purpose in compiling this list is to indicate possible sources from which such material may be obtained. Another effect which it is hoped the appearance of this list will have is the stimulation of the interest of the small collector, the beginner and the amateur. Few will undervalue the importance of gaining recruits for the study of mammalogy...”
With help from E. W. Nelson of the Bureau of Biological Survey, Howell (1923) identified 37 public and 40 private collections in North America. At that time, almost one-half of all mammal specimens in North America (defined as the United States and Canada) were housed in the United States National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D. C. (by comparison, the United States National Museum of Natural History presently holds ca. 15% of all specimens from North America).
More than 2 decades after Howell’s (1923) publication, results of the second survey of collections appeared in the Journal of Mammalogy (Doutt et al., 1945). The authors of this report (J. Kenneth Doutt, A. B. Howell, and W. B. Davis) stated the following reasons for conducting their survey (Doutt et al., 1945:231):
“In preparing the list we have followed Howell’s [1923] original plan to make it a roster of mammal collectors, as well as collections, and we hope that its effect may be to stimulate interest in the science of mammalogy, especially among young collectors.”
By 1945, the mammal-collection resource had expanded to include 297 collections (Fig. 1), most of which contained <500 specimens. Although there was a pronounced trend away from private collections (52% were private collections in 1923, compared with 38% in 1945), the bulk of the mammalian material was still contained in a few, large collections. For example, the United States National Museum of Natural History still held ca. 25% of all mammal specimens in North America. Although Doutt et al. (1945) attempted to include Latin American collections in their survey, they received no replies from Mexican or Central American colleagues, and only a single response from South America (Escuela Agricola in El Vergel, Angol, Chile). Thus, the Doutt et al. (1945) report, like its predecessor (Howell, 1923), was restricted to the United States and Canada.

The third survey of mammal collections in North America was conducted by Sydney Anderson, J. Kenneth Doutt, and James S. Findley in 1961 (published in the Journal of Mammalogy in 1963). By 1960, the ASM was well established as a professional organization, so the goals of the collection survey shifted somewhat from recruitment of new mammalogists to use of collections and documentation of the history of the discipline (Anderson et al., 1963:473):
“It is hoped that the information here compiled will aid students of mammals in using the collections and will, together with the prior surveys, help document the history of North American mammalogy.”
The Anderson et al. (1963) report was based on information from 307 collections in the United States and Canada. The trend away from private, or personal, collections continued (only 14% of the collections were considered private in 1963), as did the trend toward decentralization of the resource (for example, by 1963, the United States National Museum of Natural History contained <20% of all specimens in North America). Two Latin American collections were listed in the Anderson et al. (1963) report (Museo Nacional in San José, Costa Rica and Instituto de Biología in Mexico City), and the authors noted that they had information from 12 collections on other continents.
Jerry R. Choate and Hugh H. Genoways conducted the fourth survey of North American mammal collections on behalf of the ASM in 1973. Their report, published in the Journal of Mammalogy in 1975, was part of a larger ASM effort (funded, in part, by the National Science Foundation) to plan for future use and protection of systematic resources in mammalogy. The report included information on 388 collections, only 36 of which (9%) were privately held. The time period covered by the Choate and Genoways report (1963-1973) witnessed rapid growth in number of mammal collections in North America and record growth in terms of number of specimens in those collections (Fig. 1). Again, only two Latin American collections were included in the 1975 listing, both from Mexico.
In 1981, Hugh H. Genoways and Duane A. Schlitter conducted the first worldwide survey of collections of mammals (exclusive of Canada and the United States). This report listed 321 collections from 76 countries, which together held ca. 80% of all mammal specimens outside of the United States and Canada. Importantly, the Genoways and Schlitter (1981) report included the most comprehensive list of Latin American collections to date (51 collections from 14 countries). This list of Latin American collections served as the starting point for the current survey of Central and South American collections.
Mammal collections in North America were again surveyed in 1983 by Terry L. Yates, William R. Barber, and David M. Armstrong. Their report, published as a supplement to Volume 68 of the Journal of Mammalogy (1987), contained information on 474 collections, five of which were from Latin America (one from Costa Rica and four from Mexico), and one from the Caribbean (Jamaica). Part of the mission of the Yates et al. (1987:1) survey was to “accumulate data in an electronic database that would allow for ready revision in future years.” Unfortunately, the relatively primitive computer technology available in the early 1980s rendered the Yates et al. electronic database of little use in the present survey. However, the Yates et al. (1987) survey was the first to solicit information about computerization of mammal collections in North America, a trend that has increased rapidly over the past decade.


Purpose.This survey was designed to: 1) provide a comprehensive directory of collections of Recent mammals in the Western Hemisphere; 2) document the nature and extent of the holdings of these collections; 3) assess current curatorial practices, including those related to information retrieval; 4) compare current data with those reported in previous surveys to identify long-term trends; 5) assess the overall “health” of the resource, and use this information, plus long-term trends, to forecast the probable future of this resource over the next decade. The results of the survey will be available both in hard copy (this publication) and electronically (the ASM home page address is It is anticipated that all aspects of future collection surveys, including solicitation of information and distribution of results, will be conducted via the Internet.
Scope.The present survey contains information gathered between December 1994 and December 1995, with numerous updates to June 1996. Initially, the survey was designed to include only North American collections (i.e., Canada, Mexico, and the United States). However, several members of the Systematic Collections committee had direct research connections and collaborators in Central and South America and were aware of the growing number of collections of mammals that existed south of Mexico. After considerable discussion, the survey team decided that it was now time to expand the survey to include all of the Americas (in keeping with our Society’s name: American Society of Mammalogists) and that future accreditation of Latin American collections required that they, first, be located and, second, be recognized formally as part of the mammal-collection resource base of the Western Hemisphere. Accordingly, at its 75th-anniversary meeting in Washington, D. C. (June 1994), the ASM Board of Directors voted to expand the survey to cover all of the Western Hemisphere. Although the coverage of collections in the current report, especially collections in South America, certainly is not exhaustive, we hope that our effort to identify Latin American resources in mammalogy will encourage curators of collections not on the list to contact a member of the survey team so that the next collection survey will be even more comprehensive. Further, we recommend that the next decennial survey of mammal collections, scheduled for 2007, expand to include worldwide coverage. The pioneering global survey by Genoways and Schlitter (1981), plus continued advances in worldwide communication capabilities, should facilitate the work of the next survey team.
Survey questionnaire.A nine-page questionnaire (a copy of which can be obtained from any of the authors) was sent to all collections listed in Yates et al. (1987) and all Latin American collections listed in Genoways and Schlitter (1981). The questionnaire was modified from that used by Yates et al. (1987) to include additional and updated questions about curatorial practices, collection computerization, and collection accreditation. The questionnaire was available in both English and Spanish.
Response.In total, 276 of 464 questionnaires mailed to Canadian and United States collections were returned (59% return rate), and 62 of 184 questionnaires mailed to Latin American collections were returned (34% return rate). The high rate of return for Canadian and United States collections was due largely to the efforts of members of the ASM Systematic Collections Committee, each of whom made numerous follow-up contacts to encourage collection curators to return their questionnaires. Of the 51 collections in North America containing ≥10,000 specimens in 1983, all but one responded to the present survey.

The survey team is aware of several Latin American collections that did not respond to the survey, despite repeated attempts by the survey team to solicit a response. The names and addresses of these collections (data from Genoways and Schlitter, 1981; and Péfaur, 1987) are listed in Appendix I. It is hoped that these collections will be included in the next collection survey. Information about several of the Latin American collections was obtained directly from the Sociedad Argentina para el Estudio de los Mamíferos and the Asociación Mexicana de Mastozoología, A. C. We appreciate the assistance of our sister societies in Latin America.

Several collections that were listed as separate collections in previous surveys are now part of other collections. A list of collections that have been integrated into other collections since 1983 is given in Appendix II.
Number and geographic distribution of collections.Overall, 391 collections are included in this report, of which 329 are from Canada and the United States, and 62 are from Mexico, Central America, and South America (Fig. 2). This represents an apparent 18% reduction in total number of North American collections during the past decade (Fig. 1). This reduction, however, is likely an artifact caused by inclusion of a large number of defunct collections in the Yates et al. (1987) list. For example, in the present report, no collections are listed that reported “no specimens,” and collections that failed to respond both to this survey and to the previous survey were considered defunct and dropped from the list (importantly, no collection was dropped without repeated attempts to contact the collection curator by telephone and mail). Thus, the 1987 list, which

FIG. 2.Location of mammal collections in the Western Hemisphere. Small dots represent collections with <10,000 specimens, medium dots show collections with 10,000-100,000 specimens, and large dots show location of collections with >100,000 specimens. Maps are drawn to different scales.

included a record 474 collections, may have been an over-estimate of the total number of actual collections of Recent mammals in North America. Nevertheless, it is clear that the long-term trend toward increase in number of mammal collections has either slowed or reversed (Fig. 1). If we assume that the Choate and Genoways (1975) survey also was a slight over-estimate of the number of collections, then it appears that growth of new collections has leveled-off at ca. 350 collections in North America (Canada, United States, and Mexico). Sixty-nine of the 345 North American collections included in the present list responded to the previous survey (Yates et al., 1987), but did not respond to the present survey, despite repeated attempts to contact collection curators by telephone and mail. Although these collections are included in the present directory, it is likely that many of them no longer exist as separate collections. Data reported for these collections were taken directly from Yates et al. (1987).
Number of specimens and their distribution.The 391 collections included in this report contain a total of 4,194,305 specimens, of which 264,327 (6%) are presently uncatalogued. Collections in Canada and the United States contain a total of 3,806,557 specimens, which is a record number of specimens (Fig. 1), and represents a 21% increase in collection holdings during the past decade. This rate of growth contrasts sharply with the 57% rate of growth observed between 1963 and 1973 (Choate and Genoways, 1975) and the 24% rate of growth between 1973 and 1983 (Yates et al., 1987). However, in terms of absolute number of specimens, the decrease in rate of growth is less dramatic: ca. 900,000 specimens were added to United States and Canadian collections of mammals during 1963-1973 (90,000/year), 600,000 specimens were added during 1973-1983 (60,000/year), and 670,000 during 1983-1995 (56,000/year).
Of the 340 collections in Canada, United States, and Mexico for which size of collection is known, 150 (44%) contain <1,000 specimens, 132 (39%) contain 1,000-10,000 specimens, 49 (14%) contain 10,000-100,000 specimens, and 9 (3%) contain >100,000 specimens. Despite lack of growth in terms of overall number of collections during the past decade, the number of collections with ≥10,000 specimens has increased from 51 (Yates et al., 1987) to 58 collections at present. Most of these larger collections are located in the United States, where they are fairly evenly distributed throughout the nation (Fig. 2).
The 20 largest collections in the Western Hemisphere (Table 1) together contain 61% of all mammal specimens in the Western Hemisphere. The 10 largest collections, all of which are located in North America, together hold a total of 49.4% of North American specimens. This is a slight decrease compared to the 1987 value (53.1%), and is well below the 1975 value (57.1%). These data indicate that the reduced rate of growth in terms of number of collections in North America (Fig. 1) is not being accompanied by a “clumping” of specimens into the larger collections. In fact, the largest collection in the Western Hemisphere, the United States National Museum of Natural History, presently contains proportionally fewer specimens (15% of all specimens in North America) than it did in 1983 (17.5%) and 1973 (18.7%).
Taxonomic and geographic representation.More than one-half (52.1%) of all specimens contained in collections of mammals in the Western Hemisphere are representatives of the order Rodentia (Fig. 3). This taxonomic bias was expected, considering that rodents are common, easy to collect and prepare, and relatively inexpensive to store because of their small size. Members of the orders Carnivora (14%), Chiroptera (9.3%), and Insectivora (8.4%) are fairly common in collections, as are
TABLE 1.Specimen holdings in the 20 largest mammal collections in the Western Hemisphere.

Number of Number of Mean growth Number of

Collection specimens specimens per year holotypes

1995 1975 1975-1995 1975/1995

1. United States National Museum of Natural

History (USNM) 585,000 475,000 5,500 3,000/3,336

2. American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) 277,480 240,000 1,874 950/1,062

3. University of California, Berkeley, Museum of

Vertebrate Zoology (MVZ) 187,500 144,000 2,175 330/357

4. Field Museum (FMNH) 156,400 110,000 2,283 484/414

5. University of Kansas, Museum of Natural

History (KU) 156,000 132,000 1,200 118/129

6. University of Michigan, Museum of

Zoology (UMMZ) 138,517 111,800 1,336 122/122

7. University of New Mexico, Museum of

Southwestern Biology (MSB) 116,000 35,000 4,050 1/5a

8. Carnegie Museum of Natural History (CM) 113,994 55,000 2,950 30/31

9. Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) 100,000 68,360 1,582 8/13

10. Natural History Museum of Los Angeles

County (LACM) 97,000 43,000 2,700 22/22

11. Museu Nacional, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (MN) 90,000 -- -- --/b

12. Harvard University, Museum of Comparative

Zoology (MCZ) 72,000 69,000 150 315/322

13. The Museum, Texas Tech University (TTU) 70,000 23,000 2,350 6/13

14. University of Illinois, Museum of Natural

History (UIMNH) 61,063 48,701 618 20/20

15. Texas A&M University, Texas Cooperative

Wildlife Collection (TCWC) 56,500 27,000 1,475 39/39

16. Canadian Museum of Nature (CMN) 53,000 42,500 525 61/58

17. The Science Museum of Minnesota (SMM) 45,513c 10,000 1,775 0/0

18. University of Washington, Burke Memorial

Washington State Museum (UWBM) 40,000 7,400 1,630 0/1

19. Escuela Nacional de Ciencias Biologicas (ENCB) 38,400 -- -- --/3

20. Louisiana State University, Museum of Natural

Science (LSUMZ) 37,945 18,518 971 23/23

a MSB also holds 73 symbiotypes (host specimens from which a parasite holotype is collected—see

Frey et al., 1992).

b MN contains several holotype specimens (number not specified)

c SMM specimens are not catalogued

FIG. 3.—Taxonomic representation of mammal specimens in collections of the Western Hemisphere.
artiodactyls (4.8%) and lagomorphs (4%). Other orders are only poorly represented, especially when viewed as a percentage of the total number of specimens in all collections. It should be noted, however, that certain collections have outstanding holdings of specimens in orders not listed above; these special holdings are usually mentioned in the individual listing for that collection (see Directory of Collections).
About 82% of all specimens in collections were collected in the United States (Fig. 4). Only 8% of the specimens are from Canada, 3% are from Central and South America, and 2% are from Mexico.

FIG. 4.—Geographic representation of mammal specimens in collections of the Western Hemisphere.

Special preparations and ancillary collections.A large number of respondents reported that their collections contain special preparations, including fluid-preserved specimens, cleared-and-stained specimens, taxidermy mounts, parasites, specimens of known age, and specimens of domestic mammals. Significant holdings of special preparations are listed in the individual entries in the collection directory. Despite the fact that fewer individual specimens were added to collections during the past decade than in previous decades (Fig. 1), the total number of special preparations in collections increased dramatically since the previous survey (Table 2). In particular, collections of frozen tissues and mammalian parasites experienced explosive growth during the past decade. Of special concern is the growing number of taxidermy specimens (including trophy heads) accumulating in mammal collections in the Western Hemisphere. Although these specimens are valuable (in many cases, irreplaceable) and certainly are useful for exhibit purposes, they are expensive to store because of their large size, and they have limited research and teaching value. During the next decade, collection managers will need to grapple with the issue of how best to preserve and use taxidermy specimens.

Certain kinds of ancillary data, such as photographs and tape recordings of mammals, are not maintained routinely in most mammal collections. For example, only 21% of collections in the United States reported that they maintain photographs of specimens, and only 12% maintain photographs of habitats. Photomicrographs (3%), tape recordings (3%), motion pictures and videos (8%), and X-ray photographs (6%) are even rarer in collections of mammals in the United States. In some instances (e.g., tape recordings, tissues, and parasites), these materials routinely are deposited in specialty collections not associated directly with the traditional mammal collection (Gannon and Foster, 1996); hence, these materials exist, but are no longer reported in the survey response from the mammal collection.

TABLE 2.Special preparations contained in mammal collections in the Western Hemisphere.

Number of specimens Number of specimens

Special preparation reported (this survey) reported (1987 survey) Net growth

Fluid-preserved specimens 651,644 226,472 188% increase

Cleared-and-stained specimens 2,997 326 819% increase
Frozen tissues 473,614 21,300 2,123% increase
Taxidermy specimens 30,093 5,243 474% increase
Mammalian parasites 24,943 1,242 1,908% increase
Domestic mammals 6,132 3,531 74% increase
Specimens of known age 39,051 11,715 233% increase

Frozen-tissue collections.Increased use of molecular techniques has stimulated dramatic growth of frozen-tissue collections during the past decade (Dessauer et al., 1996; Table 2). Mammal collections in the Western Hemisphere currently maintain frozen tissues representing ca. 474,000 individual mammals. Nearly all of these tissue specimens are represented by traditional voucher specimens, which means that ca. 11% of all specimens in the traditional collections are represented by frozen tissues. Significant holdings of frozen tissues are mentioned in the individual listings in the collection directory. Especially large holdings of frozen tissues are contained in the following collections: MSB (85,000 specimens), TTU (70,000), UAM (17,000), CM (14,000), FMNH (10,000), MVZ (10,000), ROM (8,300), and LSUMZ (5,300). A worldwide directory of frozen-tissue collections is available in Dessauer et al. (1996).
Holotypes.Mammal collections in the Western Hemisphere hold a total of 6,625 holotype specimens that are dispersed among 52 collections. North American collections currently hold 6,508 holotypes, which represents a 5% increase in number of holotypes since the last survey (Yates et al., 1987). About 51% of all holotype specimens in North America are contained in the USNM collection (down from 53% in 1987), and 90% of all holotypes in the Western Hemisphere are contained in the 20 largest collections (Table 1). Appendix III lists published catalogues of holotype specimens of mammals, and Appendix IV lists general publication series associated directly or indirectly with collections of mammals.
Use of collections.When asked to identify the major purpose of their collection, 44% of the respondents listed teaching and education and 43% listed research as the primary goal of their collection (Fig. 5a). In nearly all instances, those who listed research as the primary goal of their collection, listed teaching and education as the secondary goal. When asked how their collections actually were used in a typical year, a larger percentage of respondents (58%) reported heavy emphasis on teaching and education, and only 26% reported that the major use of their collection was for research purposes (Fig. 5b).

FIG. 5.—a) Primary goals of North American collections of mammals. b) Actual use of the collections.

Sources of support.Nearly all collections surveyed reported multiple sources of support (Fig. 6). More than one-half (58%) of all mammal collections in the United States are supported directly by state government or, more commonly, through state-supported colleges and universities. A large number of collections depend on private donations, endowments, and federal or state grants and contracts for additional support. Although comparative data were not available from the previous survey, our impression is that sources of support have remained fairly constant during the past decade. The close association of many collections with colleges and universities underscores the immense educational value of this resource.

Personnel.Table 3 provides an overview of current support personnel in collections of mammals in the United States. About one-half of the collections are headed by a full- or part-time curator, most of whom are paid for their duties. One-quarter of the collections employ collection managers, nearly all of whom are paid for their work. About one-third of the collections employ paid hourly workers (usually students), and roughly the same percentage of collections rely on part-time volunteer labor. Other support positions are relatively uncommon in collections in the United States (Table 3). Although similar data were not reported for the previous survey (Yates et al., 1987), our impression is that persons with the formal title “curator” are becoming less common in mammal collections in the United States, whereas an increasing number of persons are being employed as collection managers. The potential ramifications of this trend are discussed by Cato (1991) and in the section of this report titled “Health of the resource.”

TABLE 3.Support personnel in collections in the United States.

Percentage of collections with position

Position Full time Part time Percentage paid

Curator 29 36 76

Assistant/Associate Curator 4 6 79

Collection Manager 17 9 95

Curatorial Assistant 2 12 8

Technician 5 9 97

Research Assistant 2 6 72

Graduate Student 3 18 51

Preparator 2 11 72

Hourly worker 2 30 94

Secretarial/Clerical 4 8 96

Conservator 1 1 100

Registrar 4 1 100

Volunteer 1 32 0

Curatorial standards and policies.About 68% of all North American collections have standardized curatorial practices and policies. This value is unchanged from that reported in 1983 (Yates et al., 1987). However, in nearly two-thirds (66%) of these collections, curatorial practices and policies are now available in written form. This is a dramatic and welcome increase since the last survey, when only 32% of the collections reported that they had written policy documents.
Increased use of molecular techniques has caused an increase in requests for tissue samples taken directly from study skins (Engstrom et al., in press). Although the size of the tissue sample is typically small, this practice results in permanent damage to the skin. Consequently, curators should be judicious in granting permission for consumptive sampling of specimens in their care. Currently, only 14% of North American collections have written policies pertaining to consumptive sampling of their specimens. The ASM Systematic Collections committee has produced a document titled “Recommended policy for consumptive sampling of mammal specimens,” which can be modified for use in all collections that currently lack a written policy in this important area.

Original field notes and collectors’ catalogues are maintained routinely in ca. 60% of North American collections (up from 55% in 1983), and nearly one-half of the collections (43%) maintain files of scientific collecting permits and related documents. This value (43%) is considerably larger than that reported in 1983 (31%), suggesting that collection managers are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of legal documentation of materials in their collections.

Catalogues.About 80% of all North American collections maintain some form of collection catalogue. The percentage of North American collections maintaining written catalogues of their holdings has changed little since the previous collection survey (Yates et al., 1987). Presently, 67% of the collections maintain written numeric catalogues, 43% have written accession catalogues, 38% maintain written taxonomic catalogues, and 27% have written geographic catalogues.
An increasing number of collections have produced (or are in the process of producing) electronic (computerized) catalogues of their collection holdings (see following section on collection computerization). For example, 39% of collections in North America have computerized numeric catalogues, 30% have computerized taxonomic catalogues, 23% have computerized accession catalogues, and 21% have computerized geographic catalogues.
Only 61% of North American collections that maintain catalogues (whether written or computerized) also maintain some form of back-up system in the event of loss of the original catalogue or computer file. As more and more collections develop computerized catalogues, the frequency of back-up systems also should increase because of the ease of duplicating computer files.
Computerization.Exactly one-half of all collections in Canada and the United States are computerized to some extent (up from 34% in 1983), and 37% of Latin American collections are wholly or partially computerized. Of the collections using computers for database management, 27% are completely computerized (i.e., all specimens are entered into the database) and 43% are at least one-half computerized. More than 30 different software applications are used to manage mammal-collection databases on a variety of computer platforms (e.g., DOS, Macintosh, UNIX). About 40% of the computerized collections use 80486 IBM (or IBM clone) computers running either dBase or spreadsheet-type software (e.g., Lotus, Excel, or Paradox). Some collections reported that they have migrated (or plan to migrate) to a UNIX-based system. It appears that most collections are using a standard language (SQL), which is important if the future trend in mammalogy is toward a unified system of collection databases accessible on one network, such as the World Wide Web (WWW). Use of Microsoft applications has increased dramatically since the previous collection survey (Yates et al., 1987). It appears that many of the more active collections with large databases intend to migrate to more complex and encompassing applications (e.g., Oracle), which allow use of a single database with simultaneous access by collection staff, collection users, and remote (WWW) users, all with limited (read only) access, but immediate database updates.
Protection of collections.Table 4 lists the percentage of North American collections that are protected against various kinds of potential damage to specimens. As is obvious from Table 4, there has been a dramatic increase since 1983 in the percentage of collections protected against all listed sources of damage. Despite the generally high level of protection against the more common kinds of damage to specimens (e.g., fire and insect damage), only 13% of the collections have written disaster plans.

TABLE 4.Percentage of North American collections protected against various kinds of potential damage to specimens. Previous survey results are from Yates et al. (1987).

Percentage of collections protected

Potential This survey Previous survey

source of damage (1995) (1983) Net change

Fire 83 21 +62%

Temperature fluctuation 58 16 +42%

Humidity fluctuation 43 13 +30%

Water damage 42 16 +26%

Theft and vandalism 80 22 +58%

Animal (insect) pests 88 24 +64%

Mold and mildew 36 (not asked) 

About 75% of all collections reported that they routinely monitor for presence of insects or insect damage. Use of chemical fumigants to protect against insect damage has declined from 63% of the collections in 1983 to 47% in 1995. In contrast, use of Integrated Pest Management practices (Albert and Albert, 1989) has increased from 18% of the collections in 1983 to 51% in 1995. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a program that minimizes use of pesticides for insect control. This approach targets the root of museum pest problems by concentrating on exclusion of pests from the premises altogether. IPM procedures are simple, cost effective, and a safe means of long-term control of pest infestations. Most IPM programs use the following protocol: 1) inspect for presence of pests; 2) deploy non-chemical control measures (usually sticky traps); 3) evaluate results; 4) if necessary, deploy chemical measures in a carefully specified manner; 5) re-evaluate results; 6) establish an ongoing monitoring program.
Respondents who use chemicals for pest control reported that they use of a wide variety of chemical fumigants, including ethylene dichloride, arsenic, ammonia vapor, carbon disulfide, carbon tetrachloride, carbon dioxide gas, paradichlorobenzene (moth balls and crystals), pyrethrins, vapona, and others. Many reported that they use a combination of chemical fumigants. Other forms of pest management included professional treatment of the collection area (or the entire building), freezing of incoming and outgoing specimens, and use of various kinds of “bug traps” (e.g., “bug zappers” and sticky traps).
Loans.About 75% of collections in Canada and the United States and 39% of Latin American collections reported that they processed loans of mammal specimens in the 2 years prior to the survey (1993-1994). This value is considerably larger than that reported in the previous survey (Yates et al., 1987), when only 30% of North American collections reported loan activity. Although many more collections in Canada and the United States were involved in loan activity during 1993-1994, the actual number of loans was smaller (2,899 loans in 1993-1994, versus 3,828 loans in 1982-1983). Thus, the average number of loans per collection (considering only those collections that reported loan activity) was much smaller in 1993-1994 (11 loans/collection) than in 1982-1983 (26.4 loans/collection). The total number of specimens loaned by North American collections during 1993-1994 (37,181 specimens) was also lower than the total number of specimens loaned in 1982-1983 (ca. 48,000 specimens). Not surprisingly, most of the loan activity during 1993-1994 (81% of loans and 83% of specimens loaned) was concentrated in the 59 collections with holdings of >10,000 specimens.
Accreditation.The ASM Systematic Collections committee is responsible for inspecting and accrediting collections of Recent mammals. The standards used to evaluate those collections are given in Appendix V. These standards were established to protect the collection resource, and the accreditation process was established to assist administrators of collections to meet the standards. Ideally, voucher specimens generated by researchers should be deposited only in accredited collections, where they will be curated properly and made available to the scientific community. Another advantage of accreditation is that the process, itself, can be influential in promoting the status of the collection under review, especially within one's own institution. Often, simple corrective measures recommended by the accreditation team can lead to vast improvements in operation of the collection and specimen care.
In 1995, the ASM Systematic Collections Committee announced a new accreditation procedure (termed “Initial Accreditation”) through which Latin American collections could receive preliminary accreditation without a site visit by a member of the Systematic Collections Committee. This procedure was designed to circumvent the costs and logistical problems usually involved in site visits so as to accelerate the pace at which Latin American collections are accredited. Also, international recognition of a collection often assists the collection in terms of greater institutional support. Finally, recognition of Latin American collections makes them more visible for research use, both in the sense of specimen loans and deposition of voucher specimens. Procedures for Initial Accreditation differ from those for regular accreditation and are detailed in the Journal of Mammalogy (76:1302-1303, 1995).
Currently, there are 64 accredited collections (Appendix VI), and 60 additional collections have requested accreditation. Although this long waiting list will keep the Systematic Collections Committee busy well into the future, it is unfortunate that the remaining 264 collections have not expressed interest in accreditation. The administrators of all mammal collections, regardless of the size or location of the collection, should be aware of the many advantages of ASM accreditation, and all should attempt to meet or exceed the basic curatorial standards deemed acceptable by the ASM for proper long-term storage of specimens.


Our close examination of the survey data, coupled with verbal and written responses from people in charge of collections, leave us with the impression that mammal collections in the Western Hemisphere generally are in good health. This is not to say that all collections are in good condition, or that there is not room for improvement in most collections. However, the survey revealed several positive signs—plus a few causes for concern—about the future of mammal collections in the Western Hemisphere.
As discussed earlier, the apparent decline in number of collections (Fig. 1) is most likely an artifact of different survey methods in this and prior surveys. However, it is clear that new mammal collections are not appearing as rapidly as they did in the past, which we interpret as normal saturation (i.e., there are a limited number of institutions that can and will support collections), rather than decline of the resource base. Merger of several small and potentially vulnerable collections into a single larger collection, and donation of small collections to larger institutions also has contributed to this reduction in number of individual collections. However, these consolidations have strengthened the resource by safeguarding a larger number of specimens in secure repositories.
The questionnaire asked survey respondents if they expected any changes in their collection during the next 10 years. About one-half responded “no.” Of those who responded “yes,” ca. 80% gave generally optimistic responses about the future, and 20% gave neutral or negative responses. Included in the neutral responses were 8% of the respondents who stated that their collections probably would be merged with other small collections to form a larger unit, or that their collections would be donated to another institution. Most of the negative responses (5% of all respondents) came from curators who were retiring and were concerned about the future of their collections. In most instances, there was no guarantee that the curator would be replaced with a collection-oriented person. Finally, a small percentage of the respondents (3%) reported that their collection was in a state of decline.
Of the optimistic responses, 32% reported plans for general improvement of their facility, and 22% reported plans for a new building. An additional 16% indicated plans to hire a new curator or other collection personnel, and 14% said that activity in their collection was on the upswing. Finally, 7% of the respondents reported that increased funds for collection activities were either confirmed or anticipated in the next 10 years.
Although persons with the formal title of “curator” seem to be less common in collections than in previous decades, there has been a definite increase in the number of persons with the title “collection manager.” We see this as a positive trend for mammal collections because essentially all collection managers have hands-on duties in their collections, whereas many curators have only administrative responsibility over their collection. Collection managers tend to have fewer duties outside of their curatorial obligations, which means that they have time to keep abreast of modern collection-management techniques, including Integrated Pest Management. This may explain the dramatic increase in use of IPM during the past 10 years, as well as the general increase in all other kinds of collection protection (Table 4).
During the next decade, we recommend that the ASM Systematic Collections committee take the following steps to further safeguard this important resource. First, we recommend that the committee contact those curators who indicated that their collections are at risk, and develop a plan to protect (or transfer) specimens in these collections. Second, we recommend that the committee increase its accreditation activities, and encourage more Latin American collections to use the Initial Accreditation procedure described above. Third, we recommend that the committee consider how best to handle the increasing number of taxidermy specimens in mammal collections. A carefully considered recommendation from the ASM would be extremely helpful to the many curators faced with growing numbers of taxidermy mounts in their care. Finally, we recommend that the committee work with collection curators to reduce or eliminate duplicated collection acronyms (see Appendix VII). Unique collection acronyms will help maintain order and consistency in the taxonomic literature pertaining to mammals.
This survey would not have been possible without assistance from members of the ASM Systematic Collections Committee, which includes G. D. Baumgardner, A. C. Carmichael, P. S. Cato, J. R. Choate, J. A. Cook, M. D. Engstrom, D. J. Hafner, R. D. E. MacPhee, N. D. Moncrief, E. A. Rickart, M. E. Rutzmoser, and F. X. Villablanca. The authors also thank A. Brown, J. W. Demastes, L. Ellis, E. Roots, T. A. Spradling, C. Tapia, and M. Young for clerical and other valuable assistance. T. L. Best, K. T. Wilkins, and two anonymous reviewers provided many helpful comments on the manuscript, and R. M. Timm patiently guided us through the editorial process. We thank all of these colleagues for their kindness and consideration.
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