USGS Biological Surveys Collection Home
Museum of Southwestern Biology
MSB Home Featured Student Activities General Info MSB Policy News & Events Support Us and Volunteering at the MSB Publication Series and Annual Reports Directory
Search MSB:

USGS Biological Surveys Collection
· About Us
· Contact
· News
· Online Data
· Collections
· Publications
· Staff
MSB Divisions
· Amphibians & Reptiles
· Arthropods
· Birds
· Fishes
· Genomic Resources
· Herbarium
· Mammals
· Parasites
· Natural Heritage New Mexico
· USGS Biological Surveys Collection
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.


C. Hart Merriam

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 Sperry 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.

Charles Sperry
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).

Robert F. Finley, Jr. 1975
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 present.

Mike BoganDr. 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 CERIA building.

CERIA building
© 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 integrated, 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.

current research
Myotis thysanodes © 2005 M.Lockwood, Doppler radar map © Weather Underground, Aneides hardii © USGS (S.Corn)