Gustav Paulay, invertebrate zoology curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History, describes what it takes to create and build a museum marine invertebrate collection. The Florida Museum’s nationally renowned collection is also the country’s fastest growing. Paulay also explains a museum project to create a genetic barcode for every specimen in the collection.

Interview and videos produced by Ricky Telg for Explore Research at the University of Florida.


Gustav Paulay: Life comes and goes, and even if you can go out and study it again, it’s very useful to be able to sort of compare things in your hands among different parts of the diversity of life and also different parts of the world. So in order to do that we have collections, and we can go to the collections and see, for example, a particular kind of clam or a particular kind of sea star that lives around the world and has different species of different areas, and you can compare them right away.

How useful it is depends really on how much material you have in terms of diversity, in terms of spatial and temporal coverage, and in terms of the ways these samples have been prepared. So a good collection will have coverage of much of the diversity of the planet. In terms of the Florida Museum of Natural History or invertebrate collections are noteworthy for a number of reasons. One, our mollusk collection is the second largest in the country and our invertebrates collections in general are in the top five, and it’s definitely the most rapidly growing collection in the country because we have a more active field program than anybody else, which means that we get fresh samples that are DNA sequenceable in larger numbers than anybody else does. So we have become a focus of genetic taxonomy because we have the material and we bring in more and more material to allow this kind of work to be done.

These are the invertebrate zoology collections of the Florida Museum of Natural History, both on the right and on the left you have formed collections that are in pickle, mostly in alcohol, including crabs and and sea stars and so forth, and then starting here you have dry collections, mostly seashells and land shells and dry material like that. All together the collection holds close to half a million lots of specimens or representing approximately three to four million specimens.

One of the projects that we have recently received funding for from the Sloan Foundation was to barcode our collection. Genetic barcoding is where you take a particular chunk of DNA that’s very useful for species identification and use that to identify organisms, and again you have to build this library so that this sequence of DNA is not just a sequence of DNA, but it’s tied to a specimen and an identification. We are the major collection in the US for this effort.

Learn more about Invertebrate zoology at the Florida Museum.

Explore Research at the University of Florida

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