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Why Keep Natural History Collections?

We are losing biodiversity every day, not just in the rainforests, but right here in Los Angeles, too! Held in our collection are the last specimens of the now extinct local freshwater shrimp Syncaris pasadenae. Its habitat was destroyed when the Los Angeles River’s bed and banks were completely encased in concrete in response to the catastrophic flood of 1938.

Field Research

Museum researchers collecting endangered fairy shrimp Branchinecta sandiegonensis in San Diego County. These amazing animals, representatives of an odd group of freshwater crustaceans live their entire, short life cycle of just a few weeks in vernal pools like the one pictured above!

The Crustaceans In Your Backyard

Did you know that the loveable roly polies, also known as isopods, in your backyard under the flower pot or in the compost are actually terrestrial crustaceans, not insects? They are more closely related to crabs, shrimps, and lobsters, than to beetles.

 

 

Crustacea Collections

The NHMLAC Crustacea collection began as uncurated and somewhat sporadic collections amassed during the first half of the 20th century, usually as part of collecting efforts that did not specifically target crustaceans. A major step in the growth of the collection was the legal incorporation, in 1985, of the former Allan Hancock Collections of the University of Southern California (USC), collections that resulted primarily from several research expeditions of the vessel R/V Velero, also in the first half of the 20th century. These collections were overseen, and added to, by Dr. John Garth, formerly a curator at the Allan Hancock Collection of USC. Along with the legal transfer of crustacean specimens in 1985 to the Natural History Museum, the Museum created its first curatorship in Crustacea, filled by Dr. Richard Brusca until 1988. The current curator, Dr. Joel W. (Jody) Martin, has been overseeing the collections since 1988. Our eastern Pacific holdings are the most extensive in the world. Major specimen donations, staff collecting expeditions, and exchanges contribute significantly to making our collections the second largest Crustacea collection in the United States.

Our collections cover a wide variety of habitats (marine, freshwater, terrestrial) and depths (freshwater aquatic and intertidal to abyssal) with a focus on benthic taxa. Virtually all of the major groups of Crustacea are represented, from remipedes and branchiopods through malacostracans. There are an estimated 140,000 lots, including over 1,500 type lots, over 450 of which are holotypes. There are nearly 5,500 type specimens. Lots consist mostly of 70–75% ethanol-preserved specimens in glass jars and vials. Some specimens are stored dry and some large ones are stored in steel tanks. We also curate a growing collection of material for molecular studies. Collections are arranged taxonomically and usually alphabetically within suborder or family. Several large “topical” collections, either donated or brought in by NHMLAC staff, are not sorted taxonomically but are instead still housed as intact geographical collections, awaiting sorting, identifying, and re-shelving taxonomically. Information about some of our Crustacea collections can be viewed here. For some collections we include collection locations, collecting methods, environmental parameters, field notes, maps, publications based on the specimens, photographs, and more.

We are designated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as one of two mandatory repositories for vernal (temporary) pool crustaceans in the state of California. Vernal pools, once widespread, have been reduced to an estimated 1% of their former extent in California, making our growing collections of branchiopod crustaceans irreplaceable. Our Mongolia vernal pool expedition is documented here. Our collections contain the only specimens of some crustacean taxa that have been exterminated in the wild. See sidebar on the Los Angeles River Shrimp. Our holdings constitute an internationally recognized center of excellence for research on the vast holdings of marine crabs and shrimps as well as peracarids (especially isopods and amphipods). The collections have been commented on by Brusca (1980) and Martin (1993)[?].