Curator Of Mollusks, Elizabeth Shea
The Museum’s mollusk collection is the tenth largest in the United States, according to a study published in the December 2018 edition of the American Malacological Bulletin.
Curator of Mollusks Elizabeth Shea, Ph.D. co-authored the paper with colleagues from the Field Museum of Natural History and the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. Mobilizing mollusks: Status update on mollusk collections in the U.S.A. and Canada, updates research from 1975 about museum mollusk collections. Surveys were sent to 86 organizations to determine which museums had the largest collections. The paper’s authors estimate there are 8.5 million lots (or grouping of shells from the same species, collected at the same time and location), resulting in 100 million specimens at about 90 institutions. Seventy-nine collections are included in the paper.
Natural history collections play an important role in our understanding of biodiversity, evolution, population genetics, environmental impacts, and more. The DMNH mollusk collection includes 220,000 catalogued lots, or 2 million mollusks, representing more than 18,000 species. The collection is worldwide in scope, covering all seven living classes of mollusks.
Collections Manager, Alex Kittle
Work on the study began in 2017 at a workshop during the American Malacological Conference in Newark, Delaware, when Shea was the organization’s president. “The process took over two years to distill information into what is now a 40 page paper,” Shea said. This paper also set standards for determining what constitutes very small, small, medium and large collections. In 1975, DMNH had a medium sized collection, with 70,650 cataloged lots. Currently, with more than 220,000 cataloged lots, DMNH’s collection is considered large and compares with many of the top natural history museums in the United States.
Collections management is changing with the growing use of technology. The mollusk department at DMNH is digitizing the collections through a grant from InvertEBase, a online catalog of specimens. Georeferencing, which is adding coordinates of where the specimen was found, is a new addition to digitization. “We want to make our collection data more available to the whole world,” Shea says. In the last four years, about 25 percent of DMNH’s mollusk collection has been digitized.
InvertEBase can be accessed by anyone, and users are free to browse through the collection’s digital data.