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Students give research new life

Project provides scholars worldwide online access to CMU’s natural history collections

Contact: ​Jeff Johnston

​Dakota Camarena isn't the scientist who delved into the lynx found west of Higgins Lake in February 2000, but the Central Michigan University senior is making sure researchers worldwide have access to this specimen and tens of thousands more available at CMU's Museum of Cultural and Natural History.

Camarena is one of four CMU students who are uploading museum collection data to provide online access to the university's diverse biological collections. This endeavor brings otherwise largely unknown specimens to the attention of countless biological researchers.

"There are a lot of valuable research specimens here," said Camarena, a Mount Pleasant native majoring in biology and geology. "It will be cool to know I was one of the people who gave new life to these specimens."

Many CMU scholars in biology, when they're finished with their research projects, give their meticulously documented specimens to the museum for use in research, teaching, and public interpretation or exhibition. Making specimens included in the museum's collections of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, fish and insects available online is something biology faculty member and natural history curator Kirsten Nicholson has wanted to do for nearly a decade.  

Nicholson began working with her students more than three years ago to develop a collections inventory and prepare it for uploading to the online Global Biodiversity Information Facility. They spent last fall posting the mammal research collection data online. The amphibian, reptile, bird and fish collection data should be uploaded within the next year.

The entire zoological collection was built over the last 50 years and consists predominantly of specimens typically found in the Great Lakes region. Researchers from academic institutions can access information about the collection and then, if needed, are loaned specimens, tissues or samples for their respective projects.

Making such research resources available further solidifies CMU’s positioning as a leader in Great Lakes research, Nicholson said.

"The strength of our collections is in the Great Lakes basin, so we're a natural complement to people conducting this kind of research," she said. "CMU will be a partner in documenting the evolutionary history of the Great Lakes."

In addition to supporting researchers worldwide, Museum of Cultural and Natural History Director Jay Martin said having such information online will benefit CMU students and faculty as well.

"CMU students and faculty will be able to easily search museum biological collections and use these resources to support their own research," said Martin, who also directs CMU's museum studies program within the College of Humanities and Social and Behavioral Sciences. "The process of making the collections accessible also gives our students in museum studies, cultural resource management and related fields important experience in research and museum methodology."

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