Scientific Collections: Mission-Critical Infrastructure for Federal Science Agencies

The IWGSC promotes responsible stewardship of the object-based scientific collections that serve the missions of the U.S. Federal Government. This clearinghouse provides information about the history of the IWGSC, the participating U.S. Federal Departments and Agencies, and the policies that govern the stewardship of these resources.

The U.S. Federal Scientific Collections registry (USFSC) is an online portal that provides top-level information about the scientific collections owned by the Federal Government and their parent institutions.


The Philosophical Transactions fo the Royal Society B has published a theme issue on ‘Biological collections for understanding biodiversity in the Anthropocene’ compiled and edited by Emily K. Meineke, Barnabas H. Daru, T. Jonathan Davies and Charles C. Davis (07 January 2019; volume 374, issue 1763).

Abstract from the introductory article:

Global change has become a central focus of modern biology. Yet, our knowledge of how anthropogenic drivers affect biodiversity and natural resources is limited by a lack of biological data spanning the Anthropocene. We propose that the hundreds of millions of plant, fungal and animal specimens deposited in natural history museums have the potential to transform the field of global change biology. We suggest that museum specimens are underused, particularly in ecological studies, given their capacity to reveal patterns that are not observable from other data sources. Increasingly, museum specimens are becoming mobilized online, providing unparalleled access to physiological, ecological and evolutionary data spanning decades and sometimes centuries. Here, we describe the diversity of collections data archived in museums and provide an overview of the diverse uses and applications of these data as discussed in the accompanying collection of papers within this theme issue. As these unparalleled resources are under threat owing to budget cuts and other institutional pressures, we aim to shed light on the unique discoveries that are possible in museums and, thus, the singular value of natural history collections in a period of rapid change.

[29 Nov 2018]


The last 50 years have witnessed rapid changes in the ways that natural history specimens are collected, preserved, analyzed, and documented. Those changes have produced unprecedented access to specimens, images, and data as well as impressive research results in organismal biology. The stage is now set for a new generation of collecting, preserving, analyzing, and integrating biological samples—a generation devoted to interdisciplinary research into complex biological interactions and processes. Next-generation collections may be essential for breakthrough research on the spread of infectious diseases, feeding Earth's growing population, adapting to climate change, and other grand research challenges. A decade-long investment in research collection infrastructure will be needed.

Find the full text here.

Schindel DE, Cook JA (2018) The next generation of natural history collections. PLoS Biol 16(7): e2006125.

[29 Oct 2018]

A fire at the National Museum of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro has destroyed one of the country’s most important scientific collections. No one was injured in the fire, which broke out after the museum had closed on Sunday evening. But the blaze ravaged its massive archives and collections, numbering about 20 million items by some estimates. The museum had no sprinkler system, and limited water was available from fire hydrants when firefighters arrived.

To read more, find the article here.

[06 Sep 2018]

The Presidents and Presidents-Elect of the American Society of Mammalogists, the American Ornithological Society, and the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists published a letter of support for the Biological Survey Unit (BSU) of the United States Geologic Survey and expressing concern over the proposal to eliminate it in the 2018 budget. The BSU is housed at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.

Read the full letter here.

[26 Feb 2018]

Robert Gropp, co-Executive Director of the American Institute for Biological Sciences, recently published an editorial in BioScience that not only argues for the maintenance of current biological collections, but emphasizes the importance of continuing to collect.

He goes on to announce, the future needs of natural-history collections, as well as their potential future uses in research and education, are among the issues being addressed by the Biodiversity Collections Network (BCoN), a National Science Foundation–funded research coordination network project. BCoN is in the process of organizing a workshop to be held later in 2018 to explore potential research opportunities arising from digitized collections. BCoN will solicit advice from the scientific community in the next few months about other issues that will shape future research opportunities associated with biodiversity collections. If you have ideas or wish to contribute to these discussions, please join the BCoN community at

Read the full editorial here.

[17 Jan 2018]