R & C - Why are Collections Important | Natural History Museum of Los Angeles

Conserving biodiversity first requires an understanding of it. The diversity of life on Earth cannot be understood and measured in a scientific sense without the collection and scientific description of specimens.

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Why is Rancho La Brea Important?

The Library of the Pleistocene

The more than 650 species of plants and animals housed at the Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits provide a reference collection for the late Pleistocene that is used by researchers worldwide.
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Join the NHM Next Campaign

The NHM Next campaign is transforming the Museum into one of the coolest destinations in Southern California. Want to get involved in our final phase?  
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Why are Echinoderm Collections Important?

Because echinoderms are immensely important! Huge numbers of sea stars, sea urchins, and their spiny relatives occur from shallow tide pools to the deepest ocean trenches, often in immense numbers. Their appetite for corals, clams, and kelp has a massive impact on marine ecosystems. Learn more >

 

Why We Have Collections


Mind-boggling numbers

The 35 million specimens and objects in our collections document much of the history of life on earth and human accomplishment. The diverse range of our collections includes:

  • Fine gemstones
  • A golden feather from ancient Peru
  • Fossilized ancient sea creatures
  • A taxidermied great auk
  • Charlie Chaplin’s tramp costume

A vast array of scientific data

The specimens we collect and conserve document the occurrence of individual organisms in space and time. Taken together they form a vast (and growing) permanent record, which scientists can examine again and again, applying new analytical techniques and testing new hypotheses.


The diversity of human heritage

Our collections provide a basis for the reconstruction and understanding of life in the ancient times. More recent objects from all over the world document the artistic and technological accomplishments of indigenous peoples. California’s historical heritage is represented in our collections by objects as diverse as old photographs and newspapers, Hollywood costumes, and, even, automobiles.


Authenticity in exhibits

Our exhibits grow from our research. Objects and specimens from our collections grace exhibits, where they provide detailed illustrations and the basis for ongoing dialogue with our visitors.


Who uses our collections?

Valuable information from collections benefits not only systematics – the study of the evolutionary relationships of organisms – but also many other fields of science and the humanities. Our collections are used by:

  • Authors of popular guides and field guides to wildlife
  • Artists of all kinds
  • Law enforcement agencies and planners
  • Ecologists and conservation biologists
  • Interested amateurs of all kinds

Documenting Change

Larger sample sizes (“series” of specimens) allow us to better document the variation that occurs within species, and – if collected throughout the year and over time give insight into annual cycles (such as reproduction, migration, and molting) and into long-term changes in distribution, abundance and genetics.

A basis for biodiversity studies

Conserving biodiversity first requires an understanding of it. The diversity of life on Earth cannot be understood and measured in a scientific sense without the collection and scientific description of specimens. Natural history collections and the taxonomists who study and name then are the crucial first step in understanding and, ultimately, protecting biodiversity. Only a small percentage of 
species that currently exist on Earth have been formally described.