The Alaska Frozen Tissue Collection: A resource for investigations of mammals

Joseph A. Cook
Gordon H. Jarrell


We propose to further integrate the UA Museum Mammal Collection and Alaska Frozen Tissue Collection into federal and state monitoring and inventorying initiatives by developing a permanent and more efficient personnel structure. This project will increase the value and accessibility of these collections and further establish them as important components of the regional scientific infrastructure. Presently there are many field studies and subsistence-monitoring projects on wild mammals underway throughout Alaska. While the UA Museum has capitalized on several excellent opportunities to archive material (e.g., Exxon Valdez marine mammals), a substantial number of ongoing projects do not result in the preservation of material in natural history collections.

Specifically, NSF support would upgrade a half-time position to full-time status as Manager of the Alaska Frozen Tissue Collection. The Museum has agreed to continue the new position with state funds and thus ensure a long-term effort to archive these important materials. The new position will expand the Alaska Frozen Tissue Collection significantly by coordinating efforts to collect tissues and skeletal material with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, National Marine Fisheries Service and the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, USDA Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and North Slope Borough Division of Wildlife Management.

Additional staffing will allow the current Collection Manager to (1) oversee the verification of the database, (2) migrate the database from x-base to Structured Query Language, (3) move the database onto its own dedicated server, and (4) assemble and archive related documentation (e. g, field notes, publications, reports). Finally, this project will provide additional freezer space and more secure back-up procedures for this large cryogenic collection.

Prior NSF support has dramatically increased activity in these two collections. Over 29,000 specimens were cataloged in the Mammal Collection in the past six years, bringing it to over 47,000 specimens. Holdings of North Pacific and Arctic pinnipeds are already among the largest anywhere. The Mammal Collection is nearly three times the size of the other largest holdings from this region (Smithsonian) and the Alaska Frozen Tissue Collection (AFTC) is among the largest worldwide. The AFTC contains samples from over 19,000 animals. Most are mammals (and represented by voucher specimens). We are now recruiting specimens from all regional taxa of vertebrates (e.g., >125 species of birds are represented). These are the only public collections within the Bering Strait region and use of the collections has grown rapidly. Studies in molecular systematics, wildlife genetics, epidemiology, and chemical ecology (particularly of high trophic-level organisms in the Arctic and North Pacific oceans) are now underway using these specimens. This proposal would result in a permanent manager for this large and active resource.