About the USGS Biological Surveys Collection, Albuquerque
The Biological Resources Discipline (BRD) of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) manages two significant
collections of vertebrates. One, and by far the larger, is the collection of vertebrates that is curated and maintained by the
Biological Survey Unit staff at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of
Natural History in Washington, D.C. The other is the vertebrate collection here at the Museum of Southwestern Biology (MSB). Both collections were established by
employees of the U.S. Biological Survey, and contributed initially to the study of food habits of birds, and later to documenting animal distributions from faunal
surveys in the western United States.
The USGS Biological Surveys Collection in Albuquerque was started in Denver, Colorado, where it was used as a reference collection to support food habits studies
of predators in the western United States. The collection moved to Fort Collins in 1975 and to Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1994. USGS staff associated with the
collection follow in the steps of their predecessors by conducting biological surveys (primarily for mammals) on Federal lands, particularly from national wildlife
refuges and national park service lands. As a result of continuing this historic emphasis, the collection today is one of the largest collections of vertebrates
from Federal lands in the western United States.
Congress establishes the Section of Economic Ornithology in the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), under the leadership of Dr. C. Hart Merriam.
The Section expands to include mammals and is called the Division of Economic Ornithology and Mammalogy. Drs. Merriam and A.K. Fisher conduct food habits studies
of birds and pioneer research on methods for controlling damage to agriculture by wildlife. Later the word "economic" is deleted from the division name.
The Division of Biological Survey, previously called the Division of Ornithology and Mammalogy, is renamed the Bureau of Biological Survey (BBS).
Charles Carlisle Sperry is hired by the BBS Food Habits Division in Washington, DC, shortly after graduation from the University of Kansas. He specializes in
food habits of birds, and makes collections of plants, arthropods, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals.
The BBS establishes the Denver Laboratory of Food Habits Research (the Food Habits Laboratory) in Denver, CO. Charles C. Sperry transfers to Denver to study the
food habits and economic impact of predators, other mammals, and birds in the Western United States. Sperry continues to add to his reference collection of
vertebrates to support his predator food habits studies. Using the skeletal remains of birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles in the reference
collection for comparison, Sperry is able to identify the remains in scat of what predators, such as coyotes and foxes, consumed in the wild. The results of
these studies tell us a great deal about the food habits of coyotes, shorebirds, and other animals,
with implications for understanding the spread of disease and die-offs in organisms. The reference collection, the beginning of the USGS Biological Surveys Collection at
the MSB, gradually expands in support of applied studies over the next 43 years.
Comparing rodent skulls, Sperry identifying food habits, Stomach contents of coyote © USDA APHIS-NWRC
The Food Habits Laboratory is combined with other offices and renamed The Denver Wildlife Research Laboratory, becoming part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service (FWS) within the Department of the Interior (DOI). The collection remains with the laboratory in Denver.
The Laboratory is charged with added responsibilities by Congress and renamed The Denver Wildlife Research Center (DWRC).
The collection is moved to Fort Collins, where it is directly administered by Dr. Robert B. Finley, Jr. Formally recognized as the Biological
Surveys Collection, Fort Collins (BS/FC), the collection now includes birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles, and fishes. During Finley's tenure, the mammal
collection more than doubles in size, to about 10,000 specimens. In addition, Finley obtains a valuable collection of endangered fishes from the Upper
Colorado River. Most of the new holdings are from research studies conducted on Federal lands in the West, a research emphasis that has continued to the
Dr. Michael A. Bogan is relocated to Fort Collins, CO from the National Museum of Natural History, where for 9 years he had been a Curator of Mammals
for FWS and Research Associate of the Smithsonian Institution. Following Finley's retirement in 1982 he becomes the lead curator of the BS/FC collection,
and initiates the first of many biological surveys of mammals on Federal lands on the Colorado Plateau. Under his tenure, the mammal collection continues
to grow rapidly, doubling in size to 20,000, by 1992.
Congress transfers the animal damage control portion of The Denver Wildlife Research Center to the USDA's
Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service; the facility is renamed
the National Wildlife Research Center (NWRC) in 1990. The remainder of the
DWRC, consisting of the Ecology, Museum, and Marine Mammal sections, remains with FWS (Department of Interior) and is combined with the Western Energy
and Land Use Team to form the National Ecology Center. The collection and its supporting scientists remain in Fort Collins.
The National Ecology (Research) Center, along with the BS/FC vertebrate collection housed there, is combined with other elements of the Department of the
Interior to form the National Biological Survey (NBS).
Collections on the move: In January, the birds and mammals in the Biological Surveys Collection, Fort Collins, are relocated to the University of New Mexico
in Albuquerque where the FWS had established a field station in 1974.
Curatorial staff also is moved to Albuquerque.
The NBS becomes part of the newly formed Biological Resources Division of the USGS. Staff associated with the
Arid Lands Field Station, USGS, continues to
curate the collection.
The collections of amphibians, reptiles, and fishes of the BS/FC move to the MSB and then all collections of the MSB move into a newly-renovated facility in UNM's
© 2005 J. Mygatt, © 2006 P. Stevens, © 2005 J. Mygatt
The USGS vertebrate collection now contains more than 26,000 mammals, 3,100 birds, 12,500 amphibians and reptiles, and 5,000 catalogued lots of fishes.
Current curation efforts are focused on integrating the holdings of Federal vertebrates with those of the Museum of Southwestern Biology. Integration of
Federal amphibians and reptiles was completed in June 2008, and fish integration was completed in January 2009. The USGS and MSB birds have been completely
and bird and mammal databases are fully integrated and are served on the internet.
Approximately 35% of Federal mammals have been physically integrated with MSB, and full integration is expected by June 2010.
USGS staff associated with the collection continue in the steps of their predecessors by conducting biological surveys (primarily for mammals) on Federal lands,
particularly from national wildlife refuges and national park service lands. As a result of continuing this historic emphasis, the collection today is one of
the largest collections of vertebrates from Federal lands in the western United States. USGS personnel at UNM have expertise on mammals, amphibians, reptiles,
birds, and arthropods, as well as state and federally listed species and species of special management concern in the region. Current research studies of USGS
scientists include systematic and ecological studies of bats, logging and wildfire effects on endemic terrestrial salamanders in New Mexico, and studies
of bird migration patterns using Doppler radar.
© 2005 M.Lockwood, Doppler radar map © Weather Underground, Aneides hardii
© USGS (S.Corn)