National Museum of Natural History (NMNH)

Museum Website

Kirk Johnson, Sant Director

Established in 1910, the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) has grown to become the Smithsonian’s largest museum and research unit. The NMNH is one of the world’s premier scientific institutions, as well as one of the most visited museums in the world—attracting more than six million visitors a year, with millions more visiting online. The Museum’s mission is to increase knowledge and inspire learning about nature and culture through outstanding research, collections, exhibitions, and education, in support of a sustainable future.

Steward of the largest natural history collections in the world, the NMNH holds more than 148 million specimens and cultural objects that document the history and formation of Earth, the diversity and evolution of life on the planet, and our shared human heritage. These collections are an unparalleled resource for the study and understanding of the natural world and our place in it. Every year, we welcome thousands of national and international researchers to our headquarters in Washington, DC and to our satellite facility—the Museum Support Center in Suitland, MD—where researchers use the collections to address a variety of research questions pertaining to geology, paleontology, biology, and anthropology, as well as other interdisciplinary fields. At any given time, over two million specimens are on loan to universities and research centers worldwide. Cited in more than 1,200 scientific publications annually, the Museum’s collections are the foundation of our research and educational programs. Their relevance to science and society continues to grow as new technologies are applied to their study and analysis. Broadening access to the collections is a key priority for the Museum, and several digitization efforts are underway to make them more readily available online to the international science community, policymakers and the public at large. Currently, a total of over 11.1 million specimen records have been made available to the public from ten museum collection units. Nearly 292,000 of these records describe all of the Museum’s extant primary type specimens.

The Museum’s research activities focus on three broad themes: (i) the Formation and Evolution of the Earth and Similar Planets, (ii) the Discovery and Understanding of Life’s Diversity, and (iii) Human Diversity and Cultural Change. Within these themes, the scope of our work is as varied as the interests of our scientists, whose explorations and inquiries take place on every continent, in more than 110 countries, and range from the depths of the ocean to the outer regions of space. The Museum is organized into seven departments: Anthropology, Botany, Entomology, Invertebrate Zoology, Mineral Sciences, Paleobiology and Vertebrate Zoology. We work on questions and issues often too complex for any one institution to solve alone and therefore collaborate with museums, universities and research centers across the United States and around the world, as well as with federal government agencies such as the United States Departments of Agriculture, Defense, Commerce, the Interior, and the Federal Aviation Administration, among others. We also support a large and vibrant academic community, including scientists from affiliated government agencies based at the Museum, external researchers, interns and fellows. The results of our research—as well as that of others using our collections—are made available not only through scholarly papers and books, but also through exhibitions, symposia, courses, lectures, workshops, and numerous websites.

In addition to advancing its core research themes, the Museum is also working to advance seven priority initiatives, which integrate our research, collections and outreach activities. Each represents an area that has special relevance and urgency to society, where the Museum has a comparative advantage, and where we are poised to make substantial progress over the next decade. Designed to be long-term and transformational for the Museum, these initiatives build on our strengths and will expand our partnerships within the Smithsonian and with external collaborators.

Aligned with our efforts to expand and preserve our natural history collections and make them more broadly accessible, and to continue making fundamental contributions to our knowledge and understanding of nature and culture, is our commitment to the training of future generations of scientists and Museum professionals. Every year we offer several professional development and training opportunities for national and international students and researchers—from internships for high school and undergraduate students to conduct research under the mentorship of Museum scientists, to fellowships for pre-and postdoctoral students, as well as other professionals, to pursue independent research topics. By cultivating and supporting a vibrant, diverse and inclusive academic community, we aim to play a critical role in building scientific capacity to deepen our understanding of Earth processes, biodiversity and evolution, as well as our origins and cultural diversity, and to advance knowledge that can help us to make more informed decisions about the management of our planet.

Office of the Director

Research Staff

Hayek, Lee-Ann, Research Statistician. A.B. (1965) Emmanuel College; Ph.D. (1978) University of Maryland. Research specialties: Mathematical statistical modeling and scientific problem solution for complex biological and environmental systems. Subspecialties in quantitative and statistical field ecology / paleoecology / biological diversity, especially marine. Contact:

Johnson, Kirk, Sant Director. A.B. (1982) Amherst College; M.S. (1985) University of Pennsylvania; Ph.D. (1989) Yale University. Research specialties: Cretaceous-Paleogene; paleobotany, stratigraphy, geochronology. Contact:

Johnson, RebeccaAssociate Director for Science and Chief Scientist. B.S. (1996) University of Sydney; Ph.D. (2000) La Trobe University. Research specialties: animal molecular genetics, wildlife forensic science, koala genome. Contact:


NMNH Signature Initiatives

Earth and Planetary Sciences: Our Unique Planet

As a long-time leader in Earth and Planetary Science research, the museum pushes back the boundaries of our knowledge of our planet and solar system and inspires public audiences with new discoveries in this rapidly evolving field. It also offers exciting opportunities to amplify our reach and impact through collaboration with other Smithsonian museums and research centers, NASA, and others engaged in the pursuit of space exploration. The centerpiece of Our Unique Planet is the analysis of a sample from the asteroid Bennu currently slated to arrive on Earth in September 2023 as part of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission. Equally critical to this project is the focus on training of early-career scientists by the museum’s Mineral Sciences team in the key scientific elements of the initiative:

  • What was the source of the Earth’s oceans?
  • How did silica-rich continental crust first form?
  • What was the role of minerals in the origin of life?

The research will be in two phases – from 2021-2023 and 2023-2025 – which correspond to the time before and after the arrival of a key sample retrieved from the Bennu asteroid. Insights from the Bennu samples will be enhanced by analyses of the oldest rocks on Earth and by samples from the museum’s extensive meteorite collection. These new discoveries will result in two new public-facing programs: A “Time Machine” virtual reality experience, giving audiences the opportunity to experience the early Earth; and enhancements to the museum’s Hall of Gems and Minerals. On a longer timeframe, the project will provide the foundational scientific knowledge and inspiration for a brand-new exhibition about the origins of our solar system, Earth, and life itself that we expect to part of the next strategic plan. Contact: Tim McCoy, Mike Ackerson, Cari Corrigan; Ioan Lascu

Marine Science and Conservation: The Ocean Science Center

Earth’s ocean covers more than 70% of the planet’s surface and is essential for humanity’s survival, but it faces unprecedented human-mediated impacts from habitat destruction, pollution, over-fishing, industrialization, acidification and climate change. Warming of the ocean is driving more destructive storms and increasing the rate of sea level rise. Our ability to mitigate these threats relies on our ability to characterize what lives in any part of the ocean at any given time, and to identify the conditions necessary for their survival. New approaches, including environmental DNA and machine learning, promise to deliver real-time assays of marine biodiversity. The museum has a unique set of ocean-related collections, field stations, scientific research programs, educational assets, expertise and exhibitions that are of broad value and utility to the scientific community, policy makers, and the public. To maximize these assets, we will establish the Ocean Science Center to convene, expand, and highlight the relevance of our diverse portfolio of marine expertise. The Ocean DNA project will lead the global effort to develop a genomic toolkit to rapidly assess ocean health, and curate a DNA reference library to enable large-scale surveys of marine life, especially of undiscovered “dark taxa” that may play acritical role in ecosystems. We will develop this toolkit which can be applied to discover new species, detect invasive species, monitor change, assess the effectiveness of marine reserves and management practices, and inform priorities for conservation. Contact: Christopher Meyer, Ellen Strong

Climate Change and Sustainability: People in Nature

The natural world around us is changing at an unprecedented rate, with human population growth and climate change threatening species and habitats, as well as the resources and ecosystems services that underpin our society. The People in Nature Initiative will transform how the museum engages on-site and digital visitors on the most important challenge facing humanity over the next 30 years: how to achieve a sustainable future for ourselves and Earth’s millions of species in the face of rapid climate change and sustained human population growth. The People in Nature Experience—will combine digital imagery, geographical data, audience participation, storytelling, exhibitions, and personal narratives to equip our audiences with the information they need to understand the world as it is today and what it will be in the future. Our goal is to empower and motivate citizens to become informed participants in the decisions that lie ahead for society, for them to understand the need for urgent action, and to give them the confidence they need to take action. Contact: Michael Lawrence


Big Ideas Incubator

Genomics and Informatics

Natural history specimens collected decades or even over a century ago are increasingly critical elements in understanding the biological, geological, and cultural diversity of our planet. Access to these specimens through digital, genomic, and analytical technologies continues to revolutionize how collections and their data are used in our own science and shared across the global research community—arguably making them more valuable than ever. The Informatics and Data Science Center (IDSC) is responsible for genomics and informatics strategies that leverage our unique strengths. Working with national and international partners to scope for a coordinated national infrastructure for genomic and digital collections and their associated information platforms could look like. This will require significant investment in digitization of specimens, the development of facilities for new environmental collections, and the data science capacity required to aggregate and share these resources. Contact: Vanessa Gonzalez, Rebecca Snyder

Community Science

Community science is increasingly showing its power to both engage the public as citizen scientists as well as scale and revolutionize how we collect data on the natural world. By providing people with access to scientific tools and results, museums can vastly increase their reach and impact while also growing their constituencies. This is particularly true when community science is combined with digital platforms that allow the collection and analysis of data at a continental scale. Our ambition is to develop a scientific project that harnesses the scale and breadth of community science at a national scale. We will work with partners to empower individuals to explore nature and answer questions only possible with the scale of data collection made possible by community science. Contact: Carla Easter, Robert Costello

Digital Education and Outreach

Digital technologies make it possible for the museum to make its scientific knowledge and public programs available to classrooms and homes across the nation. The COVID pandemic has rapidly accelerated our use of these technologies and has shown us what is possible, especially in the realm of education, virtual tours, and live interactions with our experts. Our challenge now is to determine the right balance between our digital programming and our on-site and community programs. This is an area where there are huge opportunities for collaboration across the Smithsonian that make full use of pan-institutional platforms and partnerships. Contact: Carla Easter, Maggy Benson

The Science of People in Nature

The relationship between people and nature has never been so important, yet these two topics are often studied separately. With expertise spanning the life, earth, and human sciences, the museum is well-equipped to develop a cross-disciplinary research environment to explore how the relationship between people and nature has changed over time and how it is understood by different cultures. We anticipate this project will also inform the redevelopment of our second-floor public galleries, which we expect to be a major focus of the museum’s 2026-2030 plan. Arguably the most important challenge that humanity faces over coming years is navigating a sustainable relationship between humans and the other organisms, habitats, and ecosystems on which our well-being, society, economy, and happiness depend. The museum’s unique position as a collections-based research institution with a substantial public audience affords us the opportunity to address the big questions that society faces and our fundamental understanding how people and nature interact. The goal of this incubator is to develop across-disciplinary research environment that encompasses the many themes and program areas where the museum’s science enhances our understanding of sustainability and the human relationship with the natural world. Contact: Rebecca Johnson

Other Initiatives

Deep Time Initiative

From the planet’s early beginnings to the age of humans, our rich fossil record reveals how our planet has changed over millions of years and how life has adapted to change. Armed with this knowledge, we have new ways to understand our natural world and our place in it, now and into the future. A single species—our own—is changing the Earth, and our impact on climate, ecosystems and biodiversity will be evident for thousands of generations to come. Paleontology gives us a long-term, “Deep Time” view of Earth’s history, helping us make sense of the kinds of global-scale changes that have been large, slow and rare—until now. The Museum has the largest fossil collection in the world with over 40 million specimens, representing the history of life on Earth over the last 2.5 billion years, and a team of expert scientists studying the evolution of the Earth and its biological communities over time. Our goal is to mobilize this knowledge of the history of life and encourage society to learn from the past to better understand the changes that are shaping our future. Contact: Kay Behrensmeyer, Matt Carrano, Scott Wing

Human Origins Initiative

Our origin and evolution as humans is a compelling scientific question. Where did we come from and how have we changed over time? What are the main characteristics that make us human? The Human Origins Initiative addresses these and other challenging questions and expands our understanding of human evolution. Our researchers are investigating the evolution of human ancestors in Africa and Asia, focusing particularly on how human adaptations relate to environmental change over millions of years. The initiative has strengthened the human origins research program in collaboration with institutions and scientists from developing countries, established the Peter Buck Chair in Human Origins, and designed and completed the renovations for the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins. Contact: Richard Potts

Q?rius Education Initiative

Public museums represent a virtually untapped resource for increasing scientific literacy. They are a perfect venue for inspiring awe and wonder about science, nature, and culture and can complement our formal educational system. NMNH is transforming the public’s connection to science by creating opportunities for young people to participate in the wonders of scientific discovery that go on behind the scenes. At the heart of our efforts is the Q?rius Initiative, which is focused around a 10,000 sq. ft. evolving learning-laboratory for experimental and innovative methodologies in the Museum and beyond. Teens and pre-teens can participate in activities rooted in real-world research, examine 6,000 authentic objects (digital and physical), interact with scientists, and experiment with field techniques and laboratory technology. Q?rius follows an “agile development” model, so that offerings are refined based on real input from our key audiences. Q?rius relies on interactive, web-based technologies to connect onsite and online experiences, expand access, and personalize the content. Its digital field books, digital collections browser, badge system, and distance-learning tool are the building blocks of an infrastructure to test and improve innovative methodologies that engage learners of all ages, wherever they are. Contact: Carla Easter

Recovering Voices Initiative

It is estimated that at least half of the world’s 7,000 languages will cease to be spoken by the end of this century. The silencing of the world’s languages—and the associated loss of traditional knowledge and culture—is universally regarded as one of the 21st century’s key global societal challenges. Fully utilizing the Smithsonian’s National Anthropological Archives, the Human Studies Film Archives, and the vast ethnological and natural history collections at NMNH, Recovering Voices executes community-based research efforts to document, preserve, and revitalize language and knowledge. Working with Indigenous communities, particularly in the Smithsonian collections, facilitates the revitalization and documentation of many of the world’s dormant and endangered languages and assists global efforts to sustain linguistic and knowledge diversity. Through diverse outreach efforts, such as the annual Mother Tongue Film Festival, the Recovering Voices helps raise awareness about cultural and linguistic diversity. Contact: Gwyneira Isaac


NMNH Central and Satellite Facilities

Ancient DNA Lab

The newly-installed BioBubble ancient DNA lab, located at the Museum Support Center in Suitland, MD, is a 17’ by 17’ soft wall containment lab and connected ante-rooms, designed for the collection of genomic data from ancient specimens, potentially as old as 1 million years. Featuring HEPA-filtration and positive air pressure to reduce DNA contamination and built to provide next-generation sequencing (NGS) data collection capability, the ancient DNA clean lab provides researchers with a sterile facility to examine ancient molecular data from specimens ranging from mummified tissues and archaeological remains to ancient sediments and diverse museum specimens. The ancient DNA lab holds great potential to investigate critical questions related to biodiversity conservation, anthropological history, genomic evolution, and more. Contact: Logan Kistler

Biomedical Imaging Research Center

The Smithsonian Institution Bio-Imaging Research (SIBIR) Center is an inter-departmental and cross-disciplinary entity at NMNH that is in the Department of Anthropology. At the heart of the SIBIR center is a Siemens SOMATOM Emotion 6, a multi-slice spiral computed tomography (CT) scanner that can visualize objects of varying size, composition, and structural complexity (69 cm gantry aperture, 0.6 mm slice width). By revealing the fine interior architecture of an object without any physical damage to it, these images can be used to address critical questions in evolutionary biology, paleontology, archaeology, biological anthropology, environmental health and conservation science. The SIBIR Center also includes computer facilities for CT data processing and analysis. Contact: Sabrina Sholts


Located at the Museum Support Center (Pod 3), this cutting-edge facility is designed to provide long term care for the Museum’s frozen, non-human, biological collections. The biorepository facility has the capacity to house more than 4.2 million items at temperatures of -20˚, -80˚, or -190˚ C and primarily includes specimens from Botany, Entomology, Invertebrate Zoology, and Vertebrate Zoology. Contact:

Caribbean Coral Reef Ecosystems Program

Carrie Bow Cay Field Station, Belize. The Caribbean Coral Reef Ecosystems (CCRE) Program was formally established in 1985, although the program has its roots in a collaborative mangrove and reef research project from 1972. CCRE is dedicated to field and laboratory research in all science disciplines contributing to our knowledge of Caribbean coral reef and related ecological systems, present and past. Carrie Bow Cay, a 0.4 hectare (1 acre) sand island on top of the southern Belize barrier reef, serves as a field laboratory for scientific investigators from NMNH and co-investigators from other Smithsonian units. The facilities at Carrie Bow Cay can accommodate up to 6 scientists and staff for 1-3 weeks at a time. The laboratory building houses a wet lab with flow-through seawater, and dry lab spaces with stereo and compound microscopes and limited lab supplies. Three outboard skiffs (15-25 ft.) and full SCUBA amenities are available for use. A station manager and a cook are always on duty. Contact: Valerie Paul

Joseph F. Cullman 3rd Library of Natural History

The Joseph F. Cullman 3rd Library of Natural History holds a world-class collection of rare materials in the history of anthropology and the natural sciences, with approximately 20,000 rare books dating from the 15th to the 19th centuries. Opened in 2002, the facility brings together subject-specific collections previously scattered across twelve separate locations in three buildings. The Library provides cross-disciplinary strengths in the narratives and reports of early voyages of exploration and scientific expeditions (including 19th-century archival material in the Russell E. Train Africana collection), taxonomic works on plants and animals from all geographic areas, catalogues of natural history collections from the Renaissance into the modern era, and publications on field-collecting and museum-preservation techniques in the 18th and 19th centuries. In addition, the Cullman Library holds the personal library of founder James Smithson, the Deshayes card file on molluscan taxonomy, and the Wheldon & Wesley (natural history booksellers) card index 1950-2000. Contact: Leslie Overstreet

Laboratories of Analytical Biology

The Laboratories of Analytical Biology (LAB) serve the research community of the NMNH and other SI units in the pursuit of focused, first class science with an experienced staff, shared instrumentation, support and training. The aim of LAB is to enhance the research environment and contribute to general scientific literacy by providing current technological resources in the areas of genomics, molecular biology, bioinformatics and scientific computing. Two main facilities of the LAB comprise over 20,000 sq.-feet of laboratory, computational and office spaces. LAB provides the capability of performing a full range of comparative modern molecular methods and includes separate pre- and post-PCR facilities, next generation genome sequencers, automated DNA extractors, automated library preparation instrumentation, capillary DNA sequencing instruments, scores of PCR machines (including real-time), microfluidic separation technology for DNA, RNA and proteins, automated robotic liquid handlers, and cloning areas. Computer facilities include labs with Mac, Linux and Windows workstations, including systems with increased memory for large datasets and large screens for data visualization. Support is available from LAB, NMNH, and OCIO staff for running analyses on Smithsonian’s computing cluster. LAB provides access to molecular analytical software including licensed programs like Geneious and Sequencher. All NMNH researchers and affiliated staff, with the approval of their department chair, can request LAB access, bench space, and computer facilities and equipment. Contact: Lee Weigt, Amy Driskell

Natural History Libraries

The NMNH Library was formed as an administrative entity in 1981 and is one of 21 libraries within the Smithsonian Libraries. It consists of a main library (on the first floor and basement of the NMNH East Court) plus 13 specialized collections. We offer weekly orientations to these sciences libraries, or you can stop by the main branch at any time for a quick overview and a library card application. Most of these library collections are near corresponding departments in the NMNH building (including the Botany & Horticulture and John Wesley Powell Library of Anthropology branch libraries, which, along with the main location, are staffed full time). Along with abundant collaborative workspace, including two training rooms, the main library features scholarly, highly-technical and research-oriented materials in cross-disciplinary topics within the general areas of interest to the NMNH. It contains over 120,000 items on general science, biology, ecology, evolution, biodiversity, geology, paleontology, conservation, genomics and other subjects. The library offers over 500 print and/or online journal subscriptions and a number of journals received on exchange. The NMNH main library also contains the Museum Studies Research Library (MSRL) collection. All locations have strong collections of 19th- and 20th-century scientific literature. The Smithsonian Libraries participates in sharing resources with some of the most important libraries in the nation, including the National Agricultural Library, the Library of Congress, the National Library of Medicine, and the Geological Survey (USGS) Library. These libraries make the Washington, D.C. area one of the best in the country for bibliographic research. Contact: Jane Quigley

Photography and Media

Digital media is key to achieving the Smithsonian’s goal of reaching 1 billion people a year. The NMNH Office of Photography and Media directly supports this strategic initiative through digital photography of the Museum’s collections, research, exhibitions, programs, events, people, and facilities. Our professionally trained photographers have substantial experience working in a variety of photographic styles, including scientific, forensic, fine art, portrait, documentary, and candid. As well as working on location, the NMNH Photo and Media team operates two studios equipped with the latest technology and gear at the Natural History Museum building in Washington, DC, and at the Museum Support Center in Suitland, MD. In addition to creating new photography of NMNH subjects, NMNH Photo and Media also maintains an archive of over 200,000 digital images that we are responsible for distributing to requestors around the world. NMNH Photo and Media also offers film digitization and digital printing services to the NMNH community. Contact: James Di Loreto, Kristen Quarles

Scientific Imaging Laboratory

The Scientific Imaging (Scanning Electron Microscope) Lab supports the research interests and conservation efforts of NMNH scientists by providing state-of-the-art instrumentation, training, and assistance in preparing samples for microscopic study. At the heart of the Lab are the three low-vacuum-capable Scanning Electron Microscopes (SEM). Each instrument has unique capabilities such as large area automated tiling, EDS elemental analysis, or extreme magnification, ensuring that virtually any sample can be studied. In addition to the electron beam instruments, the lab provides a high-quality, well-equipped compound fluorescent microscope, a stereo zoom microscope, and the free-angle, opto-digital zoom microscope. The lab also provides for the capture of spatially and colorimetrically accurate 3D models via a photogrammetry workstation and laser scanning workstations. Rounding out the facility is the micro-computed tomography (µCT) scanner with submicron spatial resolution for non-destructive 3D X-Ray imaging of samples and internal structures. Volume reconstructions and analysis is performed on high performance HP workstations running Volume Graphics 3D Studio Max software. The Scientific Imaging Lab is well-equipped to prepare samples for examination including a full wet lab with chemical fume hoods and ancillary support equipment such as a vacuum evaporator, high-resolution sputter coater, critical point dryer, freeze dryer, cut-off saws and polishers. Any NMNH researcher, with the approval of their NMNH department chair, can train to use the facility and instrumentation in support of NMNH research interests. Contact: Scott Whittaker, Jennifer Hill

Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce

701 Seaway Drive, Fort Pierce, Florida 34949. The Smithsonian Marine Station (SMS) is in Fort Pierce on the east coast of central Florida. It serves as a field station that draws more than 50 top scientists and students each year from the Smithsonian and collaborating institutions. The facility is situated in a biogeographical transitional zone where there is access to both tropical and temperate biota, as well as the Gulf Stream. The SMS specializes in studies of marine biodiversity and ecosystems of Florida. Research focuses on the Indian River Lagoon and the offshore waters of Florida’s east central coast, with comparative studies throughout coastal Florida. Ongoing research programs include the systematics and ecology of marine algae and invertebrates ; benthic ecology; microbial and chemical ecology of corals, sponges and algae;; studies of marine natural products; and studies of mangrove, seagrass and oyster ecosystems.

The facilities at the SMS include an 8,000 sq.-foot laboratory/office building and a residence for visiting scientists on an 8-acre campus. Available for use are laboratories for confocal microscopy,  biochemistry and chemical ecology, microbiology, a small molecular laboratory, a small industrial shop, and offices and laboratories for individual scientists. Specialized equipment includes recirculating seawater systems, a confocal microscope, centrifuges, an ultra-cold freezer, two laminar flow hoods (clean benches), equipment for  DNA analyses, high-performance liquid chromatographs, a gas chromatograph/mass spectrometer, and a UV-visual spectrophotometer. There is also a wide variety of light microscopes and photographic, video and computer equipment. The SMS owns four boats for use in field studies: two 19-foot and a 21-foot Carolina Skiff for research within the Indian River lagoon, and a 21-foot center-console boat to access near-shore waters. Contact: Valerie Paul

Research Staff

Paul, Valerie, Head Scientist. B.A. (1979), Ph.D. (1985) University of California San Diego, Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Research specialties: Marine chemical ecology, marine plant-herbivore interactions, coral reef ecology, and marine natural products. Contact:

Affiliated Research Staff

McField, Melanie, Biologist/Program Coordinator. B.S. (1990) University of South Carolina; Ph.D. University of South Florida (2001). Research specialties: coral reef ecology; marine resource management and conservation; coral bleaching; marine pollution. Contact:

Sneed, Jennifer M., Biologist. B.S. (2000) University of Central Missouri; M.S. (2005) University of South Florida; Ph.D. (2010) Friedrich Schiller University. Research specialties: Marine chemical and microbial ecology; larval settlement cues; algal microbiomes. Contact:

Sweat, Holly, Biologist. B.S. (2002) Eckerd College; M.S. (2010) Florida Institute of Technology; Ph.D. (2016) Florida Institute of Technology. Research specialties: estuarine ecology; biodiversity; benthic invertebrate communities; biofilms and larval recruitment; benthic condition and restoration. Contact:


Department of Anthropology

The mission of the Department of Anthropology is to study the biological and cultural diversity of humankind around the globe. Our staff members record, study, collect and preserve artifacts representative of world societies and disseminate that knowledge widely through publications, exhibits, lectures, teaching, and by providing opportunities for research and study within the department. The Department’s top priority is to address the difficult legacies of the field through working to decolonize the Anthropology collections, many of which were collected during a time of power imbalance. Repatriation to Native American tribes, international repatriation, ethical stewardship and ethical returns are all being implemented or explored as ways to address the difficult legacy of the field.


Research in the Department of Anthropology encompasses the entire range of human development, from the earliest traces of our distant ancestors, more than five million years ago, to the challenges facing society today Our researchers explore the effects of humans on the environment and the impacts of the environment on humans—learning how our responses may have shaped our evolution. Our archaeologists trace environmental change in marine environments through 10,000-year-old marine shells, document the role of people in domesticating plants through the analysis of ancient DNA, explore the connections between seventeenth-century Basque whalers and the Indigenous people of Quebec. Our ethnologists work in partnership with IIndigenous communities around the world, examining the role of objects in the creation of identity and heritage, and they collaborate with communities to document their endangered languages and knowledge systems. Our biological anthropologists study historic period populations, engage in cutting-edge forensic work and seek clues to help modern populations deal with real-time issues by studying the effects of environmental pollutants on the human skeleton.


The Department of Anthropology preserves diverse collections relating to world cultures and the history of anthropological study and makes them accessible to Indigenous and other communities for a wide variety of research, education, and enrichment activities. The Anthropology collections are comprised of three main collections units: Archaeology, Ethnology and Biological Anthropology Collections; National Anthropological Archives; and Human Studies Film Archives.


The archaeology collections consist of 3 million objects derived primarily from Smithsonian-sponsored excavations. Much of this work has focused on North America. There are, however, significant collections from other world areas, including artifacts from the first excavations at many locations in Central and South America and rare materials from the Old World Paleolithic and Mesolithic. Among the significant archaeology collections are the Division of Mound Explorations by Cyrus Thomas in the Eastern United States (1800s); the River Basin Survey collections (1946-1969) that include prehistoric and historical materials from the Missouri River Basin and WPA surveys from the Southeastern United States; as well as the southwest archaeological materials excavated by Neil Judd from Chaco Canyon. Contact: Carrie Beauchamp


The ethnology collections are comprised of over 200,000 objects representing 19th and 20th century cultures from around the globe. Exploring expedition collections document periods of early contact worldwide, while the Bureau of American Ethnology materials represent the results of large-scale, systematic collecting.. The collections include Japanese material collected by Matthew Perry in the 1850s and several thousand items from the Pacific islands assembled by the U.S. Exploring Expedition, 1838-42. The collection is particularly strong in materials from North America, but there are also significant collections from Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, Central America, Mexico, Oceania, and South America. Contact: Carrie Beauchamp

Biological Anthropology

The biological anthropology collections at NMNH consist primarily of human skeletal remains that originate from dozens of countries and span the last several millennia of human history. Many of these remains have been used by researchers for a broad range of studies in biological anthropology and forensic science, resulting in hundreds of theses, dissertations, scientific articles, and monographs, as well as the resolution of casework and professional training in these fields. The human remains that make up these collections were mostly acquired by the NMNH through archaeological excavations during the 20th century. Others came to the NMNH through additional means, such as forensic investigations. Contact: Sabrina Sholts

Research on human remains in the biological anthropology collections occurs through a process of internal approval, with strict adherence to current ethical guidelines including consultation with and permission from descendant communities as appropriate. Not all the human remains at NMNH are available for scientific study, however, and research access is restricted for those that are subject to repatriation or under interval review. Contact: Carrie Beauchamp

National Anthropological Archives

The National Anthropological Archives collects and preserves historical and contemporary anthropological materials that document the world’s cultures and the history of the discipline. Its collections represent the four fields of anthropology—ethnology, linguistics, archaeology, and biological anthropology—and include manuscripts, field notes, correspondence, photographs, maps, sound recordings, film, and video created by Smithsonian anthropologists and other preeminent scholars. The collections include the Smithsonian’s earliest attempts to document North American Indian cultures and the research reports and records of the Bureau of American Ethnology (1879-1964), the U.S. National Museum’s Division of Ethnology, its Division of Biological Anthropology, and River Basin Survey archaeology.

The NAA also maintains the records of the Smithsonian’s Department of Anthropology and of dozens of professional organizations, such as the American Anthropological Association, the American Ethnological Society, and the Society for American Archaeology. Among the earliest ethnographic collections are the diaries of John Wesley Powell, which recount his exploration of the Colorado and study of the region’s Indians, and the pictographic histories of Plains Indians collected by U.S. military officers and BAE ethnographers. Other significant manuscript collections include the ethnographic and linguistic research of Franz Boas, Frances Densmore, Albert S. Gatschet, John Peabody Harrington, and J.N.B. Hewitt, as well as the expedition logs, photographs, and film record produced on Matthew Stirling’s explorations in New Guinea (1926-29). The Smithsonian’s broad collection policy and support of anthropological research for over 150 years have made the NAA and HSFA unparalleled resources for scholars interested in the cultures of North America, Latin America, Oceania, Africa, Asia and Europe. Although North American materials remain one of the collection’s strengths, for the past 40 years the NAA has collected and preserved anthropological materials that document cultures from around the world.

All told, the archives curates 17,000 linear feet of manuscripts, 1,000,000 ethnological and archaeological photographs (including some of the earliest images of Indigenous people worldwide), 21,000 works of native art (mainly North American, Asian, and Oceanic), and 5,000 sound recordings. Contact:

Human Studies Film Archives

The Human Studies Film Archives was established in 1981 to collect, preserve, and make available for research use anthropological film and video records. The collection includes historic and contemporary, both edited and unedited, black-and-white, color, silent and sound film, and video documents from around the world. The growing collection totals approximately 34,000 holdings including 15,000 rolls of original and preservation film (totaling over 8 million feet), 5,500 rolls of reference film, over 10,000 sound recordings and 3,200 videocassettes. These audiovisual records were created by a diverse group of people including anthropologists, archaeologists, Peace Corps volunteers, missionaries, teachers, travelers, and commercial and independent filmmakers. Supplementary materials such as annotations, sound recordings, field notes, photographs, and dissertations, accompany many of the film projects. An active preservation program ensures that the Film Archives’ moving image records are safe-guarded from format obsolescence and age-related deterioration and degradation. Contact:


The Department of Anthropology maintains conservation laboratories and a collection processing laboratory. The Department has advanced x-ray equipment including a Siemens Somatom CT scanner. The CT scanner is used extensively to study objects in a nondestructive and noninvasive manner. Recently studied objects and specimens include human skeletal remains, mummies, ethnographic objects, forensic objects, and archaeological items. The CT scanner is available to other departments and organizations within the Smithsonian and collaborations related to scanner use include institutions worldwide. Fieldwork equipment includes Ashtec/Magellan GPS (Global Positioning Sys-tem), Topcom electronic total station, and Geonics electromagnetic equipment. Use of the CT scanner and surveying equipment may be offered to researchers and advanced students when available.


Department of Anthropology scientific staff members conduct extensive field research throughout the world including archaeological, ethnological, linguistic, and biological anthropological research on a global level. in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, Ecuador, Greenland, Greece, Indonesia, Kenya, Korea, Mali, Mexico, and Polynesia, Peru, as well as in various parts of the United States, including California’s Channel Islands and the Chesapeake Bay.


Smithsonian Contributions to Anthropology, the encyclopedic Handbook of North American Indians, the Arctic Studies Newsletter and Contribution to Circumpolar Anthropology.

Education and Outreach

Anthropology Department staff engage in outreach and education with community-based archaeology programs for at-risk Indigenous students in Labrador, in providing forensic expertise to federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, in hosting interns and fellows, in giving public lectures, and in working with Native American tribes in various parts of North America. Each summer the Department also hosts the Summer Institute in Museum Anthropology (SIMA), a research training program for anthropology graduate students to gain hands-on experience and learn broader and more effective uses of museum collections in anthropological research.


The Anthropology Library, officially known as the John Wesley Powell Library of Anthropology, consists of approximately 85,000 volumes, including more than 400 serials, a large amount of microfilm, and smaller collections of CDs, audiocassettes, etc. The core of the collection is the library of the Bureau of American Ethnology (BAE) established by Congress in 1879 within the Smithsonian to conduct “anthropologic researches among the North American Indians”. In 1965, when the BAE was abolished, its library was joined with those of the NMNH Anthropology divisions.

The coverage of today’s library collection is broad, including all four subfields of American anthropology, and is research-oriented with an emphasis on material culture. Holdings are especially strong in Native American culture, history, and linguistics for all of North America and the Arctic Rim, with additional materials focusing on Indigenous cultural development in Central and South America. The history of anthropology, especially during its early years in the United States, is also well represented. The last several decades have seen significant growth in Asian cultural history. A diverse body of literature supports research in biological anthropology, especially in skeletal biology, paleopathology, forensics, human origins, and human variation and biocultural adaptation. In addition, the Anthropology Library has research materials on the Near East, Oceania, Africa and the New World diaspora.

Programs and Partnerships

Arctic Studies Center

The Arctic Studies Center (ASC) was organized in 1988 to establish programs in Arctic and Subarctic anthropology, archaeology and biology. The ASC explores cultures, history and environments of the northern part of the globe, and conducts research throughout the circumpolar region. ASC anthropologists specialize in archaeology, ethnology, ethnohistory and aspects of human-environmental interactions from the Ice Age to modern times. The ASC also investigates modern processes of culture contact and transformation from the perspectives of history, contemporary affairs, demography, geography and ecology. Contact: William W. Fitzhugh

Arctic Studies Center – Alaska Office

In 1993, a branch office of the Arctic Studies Program was opened at the Anchorage Museum of History and Art in Anchorage, AK. The NMNH cares for many thousands of items that represent the cultural heritage of Alaska’s diverse Native peoples, including clothing, tools, basketry, carvings and ceremonial art. The Alaska Office was opened to make these resources more accessible to Alaskan scholars, artists, educators, students, and the general public. In addition to exhibitions and field studies, the Alaska office works with the University of Alaska and with Alaskan museums and culture centers to offer lectures, workshops and courses in cultural research and museum skills. Contact: Aron L. Crowell

Human Origins Program

The Human Origins Program was established in 1985 to investigate the evolution, paleoecology, and behavior of early humans. The program is based on field excavation of hominin sites in Africa and Asia, and seeks to test the effects of ancient environmental variation on hominin activities and geographic distribution. Through international collaboration, data on paleontological and archaeological sites worldwide are brought together to better understand the ecological factors involved in human evolution. An excellent collection of hominid fossil casts and Paleolithic artifacts are maintained for study. Contact: Richard Potts

Repatriation Office

The Repatriation Office was established in 1991 in response to the National Museum of the American Indian Act. This legislation mandates that the Smithsonian inventories its Native American and Hawaiian collections for human remains, including certain categories of objects, and return them to culturally affiliated groups. Staff members document the physical remains and objects in order to assess their origin, identity and affiliation, and provide recommendations for action. An amendment to the NMAI Act in 1996 broadened the repatriation mandate to include sacred objects and objects of cultural patrimony (as defined in the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act passed in 1990). Much of the Native American material now held by the museum was collected as a part of archaeological excavations or anthropological expeditions around the U.S. Remains and objects were also transferred to the Smithsonian from other institutions, including the former U.S. Army Medical Museum. A small number of human remains were collected by private individuals, and large numbers of ethnographic objects were acquired from Native people throughout the 19th and 20th centuries by private collectors and Smithsonian anthropologists. To date, over 6,000 sets of remains have been offered for repatriation, and of these 4,400 have been repatriated. Contact: Eric Hollinger and Dorothy Lippert

Research Staff

Bell, Joshua A., Curator of Globalization and Director, Recovering Voices Program. B.A. (1992) Brown University; M.Phil (1998), D.Phil (2006) Oxford University. Research specialties: shifting local and global network of relationships between persons, artifacts and the environment; materiality, transforming political economies and ecologies, cultural and intellectual property, indigenous knowledge systems, history and the role of objects. Contact:

Fitzhugh, William W., Senior Scientist, Curator of North American Archaeology and Director, Arctic Studies Center; B.A. (1964) Dartmouth College; M.A. (1967), Ph.D. (1970) Harvard University. Research specialties: Archeology and ethnology of northern Canada and United States, circumpolar regions, and Mongolia; Arctic material culture; Arctic social science policy; cultural ecology of the North; ethnographic and prehistoric maritime adaptations; culture and climatology. Contact:

Isaac, Gwyneira, Curator of North American Indigenous Culture. BFA (1990) University of Michigan; M.Phil (1995) Oxford University; Ph.D. (2000) Oxford University. Research specialties: Anthropology, Zuni and Southwest Pueblos, knowledge systems, material culture, photography. Contact:

Kistler, Logan, Curator of Archaeobotany and Archaeogenomics. B.A. (2007) University of Kentucky, M.A. (2009) and Ph.D. (2012) Pennsylvania State University. Research specialties: Ancient DNA; genomics; plant domestication; evolutionary ecology; environmental archaeology; human-environment interactions; molecular anthropology; archaeogenomics. Contact:

Krupnik, Igor I., Chair of Anthropology and Curator of Circumpolar Ethnology. M.A. (1973) University of Moscow; Ph.D. (1977) Moscow Institute of Ethnography; Ph.D. (1990) Institute of Ecology and Morphology, Moscow. Research specialties: Arctic ethnology, indigenous knowledge, social systems, modern cultures; Arctic environment and climate change; cultural heritage and heritage preservation; history of Arctic/North Pacific ethnological research. Contact:

Owsley, Douglas W., Curator of Biological Anthropology. B.A. (1973) University of Wyoming; M.A. (1975), Ph.D. (1978) University of Tennessee. Research specialties: skeletal biology; forensic anthropology; historic populations in North America; North American Plains Indians; Polynesia. Contact:

Potts, Richard, Curator of Biological Anthropology, Peter Buck Chair of Human Origins Director. B.A. (1975) Temple University; Ph.D. (1982) Harvard University. Research specialties: Paleoecology and evolution of early hominids; excavation and analysis of hominid sites (late Miocene through Pleistocene). Contact:

Rick, Torben, Curator of North American Archaeology. B.A. (1997) University of California, Santa Barbara; M.S. (1999) University of Oregon; Ph.D. (2004) University of Oregon. Research specialties: Interactions of ancient people with coastal and terrestrial ecosystems. Contact:

Sholts, Sabrina, Curator of Biological Anthropology.  B.A. (2003)  University of Chicago; M.A. (2005) University of Chicago; M.A. (2008) University of California, Santa Barbara; Ph.D. (2010) University of California, Santa Barbara. Research specialties:  Integrative approaches with human ecology, biochemistry, and toxicology and in particular, the effects of environmental pollutants on human skeletal morphology. Contact:

Taylor, Paul Michael, Curator of European, Near Eastern, and Asian Ethnology. B.A. (1975) University of California; M.Phil. (1977), Ph.D. (1980) Yale University. Research specialties: Cultural anthropology and linguistics of Southeast Asia; ethnobiology; kinship and social organization; art and material culture; ecological anthropology; ethnography and languages of Indonesia, especially Maluku and Irian Jaya; digital museums. Contact:

Affiliated Research Staff

Arnoldi, Mary Jo, Curator of African Ethnology Emerita. B.F.A. (1970) Bowling Green State University; M.A. (1975) Michigan State University; Ph.D. (1983) Indiana University. Research specialties: African ethnography with emphasis on visual, material, and performing arts; post-colonial public culture, museum history and museology. Contact:

Billeck, William, Research Associate. B.A. (1976) Queens College; M.S. (1980) University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee; Ph.D. (1993) University of Missouri. Research specialties: Repatriation, North American Archaeology, Historic Archaeology, Glass Trade Bead Studies. Contact:

Bishop, Ronald, Curator of Mexican and Central American Archaeology Emeritus. B.A. (1965) San Francisco State University; Ph.D. (1975) Southern Illinois University. Research specialties: Archaeology of Meso and Central America; ancient materials characterization; exchange systems; quantitative methods. Contact:

Burgess, Laurie, Research Associate. B.A. (1985) Pennsylvania State University; M.A. (1999) University of Maryland, College Park. Research Specialty: historical archaeology of North America, material culture and glass trade bead research. Contact:

Crowell, Aron, Alaska Director, Arctic Studies Center. M.A. (1988) George Washington University; Ph.D. (1994) University of California, Berkeley. Research specialties: Arctic archaeology and anthropology, museum anthropology. Contact:

Emmelhainz, Celia. Supervisory Research Anthropologist, National Anthropological Archives. B.A. (2005) Ohio Dominican; M.A. (2011) Texas A&M University; MLIS (2014) Kent State University. Research specialties: cultural anthropology; ethnography of Post-Soviet Eurasia; data archiving; circulation of people and ideas; knowledge and naming structures; intersections between libraries, archives, and museums. Contact:

Goddard, Ives, Senior Linguist Emeritus. A.B. (1963) Harvard College; Ph.D. (1969) Harvard University. Research specialties: Linguistics and North America; general linguistics including descriptive, historical, and theoretical; textual analysis, discourse, philology; Algonquian linguistics and ethnohistory. Contact:

Greene, Candace S., Research Associate. B.A. (1971) University of Texas; M.A. (1976) Brown University, Ph.D. (1985) University of Oklahoma. Research specialties: Native North American art, material culture, and ethnology, especially Plains Indian drawings; museum anthropology; issues in collection-based research. Contact:

Homiak, John P., Research Associate. B.A. (1969) Franklin and Marshall College; M.A. (1975) U.S. International University; Ph.D. (1985) Brandeis University. Research specialties: Caribbean ethnology, diaspora studies, Rastafari, visual anthropology and ethnographic film. Contact:

Loring, Stephen, Arctic Archaeologist. B.A. (1973) Goddard College; M.A. (1984), Ph.D. (1991) University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Research specialties: Arctic and sub-Arctic ethnohistory and archaeology; Labrador; public policy in the circumpolar north; repatriation philosophy, community archaeology, indigenous property rights. Contact:

Pobiner, Briana, Research Scientist and Education Specialist. B.A. (1997) Bryn Mawr College; M.A. (2002), Ph.D. (2007) Rutgers University. Research specialties: hominin-carnivore interactions. Contact:

Piperno, Dolores R., Senior Scientist Emeritus, Archaeology and Archaeobiology. B.A. (1971) Rutgers University; M.A. (1979), Ph.D. (1983) Temple University. Research specialties: Tropical archaeology, archaeobotany, and paleoecology; agricultural origins; prehistoric human ecology. Contact:

Rogers, J. Daniel, Curator of North American Archaeology Emeritus. B.A. (1976); M.A. (1982) University of Oklahoma; Ph.D. (1987) University of Chicago. Research specialties: Great Plains, Southeastern U.S., Mexico, Mongolia archaeology and ethnohistory, development of empires, culture contact. Contact:

Ubelaker, Douglas H., Senior Scientist and Curator of Biological Anthropology. B.A. (1968), Ph.D. (1973) University of Kansas. Research specialties: New World human skeletal biology; and forensic anthropology. Contact:

Department of Botany

The Department of Botany’s mission is to discover and describe plant life in terrestrial and marine environments, to interpret the evolutionary origin and processes responsible for this diversity, and to understand how humans are affected by and have altered plant diversity on the planet. The Department hosts events and activities throughout the year to explore and recognize achievements by the botanical community, including an annual Smithsonian Botanical Symposium.


Research in the Department of Botany focuses on plant systematics in the broadest sense: taxonomy, nomenclature, comparative anatomy and morphology, molecular systematics, phylogenetics, evolutionary genomics, diversification, phytogeography, cytology, ecology, evolutionary theory, and economic botany. Staff have organized or otherwise led major floristic studies in diverse parts of the world,focusing on Hawaii, the Marquesas Islands, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands,  the Washington-Baltimore Area, Burma [Myanmar], the Caribbean, the Guianas, and Venezuela. Other research projects are aimed at elucidating phylogeny, evolutionary development, and broad questions of classification. Both modern and fossil species of many plant groups, including algae, mosses, ferns, and flowering plants, are currently being studied.


The United States National Herbarium is the major collection resource in the Department. The Herbarium was established in 1848, shortly after the founding (1846) of the Smithsonian Institution. Plants collected during various early government expeditions were first deposited in the National Institute, also known as the National Institution for the Promotion of Science, and later transferred to the newly founded Smithsonian. Of note among these plants were the large collections (50,000 specimens representing 10,000 species) from the U.S. South Pacific Exploring Expedition (1838-1842), under the command of Lt. Charles Wilkes, U.S.N. The earliest botanical expeditions sponsored, in part, by the Smithsonian included the explorations of Texas and New Mexico in 1848 by Charles Wright.

The U.S. National Herbarium has about 5.1 million specimens collected from throughout the world. Most collections are discoverable online, with  high resolution digital images currently available for all pressed specimens. Most of the Herbarium is arranged in an older natural classification system by family and genus, and within each genus according to geographic region, and further alphabetically by species. However, currently the angiosperms are being reorganized to follow the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group (APG) classification system. The collection includes all major plant groups and is among the ten largest herbaria in the world, accounting for about 8% of the plant collection resources in the United States. Most of the specimens in the collection are standard mounted herbarium sheets, although several small collection subsets of fluid preserved specimens exist, as do microslide collections and bulky specimens (i.e., large specimens stored in boxes or trays). The herbarium includes approximately 114,600 inventoried type specimens from all areas of the world but is richest in North American and Tropical American species, with additional strengths in the Philippines, Pacific Islands, and Indian subcontinent. The Department maintains active loan and acquisition programs. Over 25,000 specimens are lent annually to researchers throughout the world and about 20,000 specimens are acquired annually, primarily through exchange and fieldwork.

The Herbarium maintains several important special collections. The Richard H. Eyde floral microslide collection includes over 21,500 serial sections representing 114 families of flowering plants, with special strengths in Cornaceae, Onagraceae, and Rubiaceae. Other important resources include the Wood Collection housed at the Museum Support Center (MSC) with over 42,500 specimens representing almost 3,000 genera with an additional 6,400 microslides of wood sections. The pollen and spore reference collection includes over 7,500 microslides representing a wide variety of plant families. The bamboo collection is especially diverse. It includes over 37,000 inventoried herbarium specimens, over 3,600 bulky specimens (including large culms, rhizomes, branch complements, and culm cross-sections), 3,000 fluid-stored specimens (mostly leaves), 1,300 floral dissection mounts, 250 dry fruit and seed specimens, 16,000 photographic slides, 600 black and white photo negatives, and 2,000 anatomical slides of serial sections, cross-sections, longitudinal sections, and epidermal scrapes. 

Phanerogamic Collection

Many of the plant groups represented in the U.S. National Herbarium rank among the finest and/or largest in the world. A number of flowering plant families such as the Acanthaceae, Asteraceae (Compositae), Bromeliaceae, Commelinaceae, Gesneriaceae, Melastomataceae and Poaceae have benefited from a long history of departmental specialist research and study. Active research is underway in the Araliaceae, Euphorbiaceae, Malvaceae, Onagraceae, Sapindaceae, Vitaceae, Zingiberales, and pteridophytes. Contact: Sue Lutz

Cryptogamic Collection

The cryptogamic collections comprise 750,000 specimens. The lichen herbarium is one of the largest and best curated lichen collections in the world, containing 180,000 specimens. It is especially rich in type material with 2,500 type specimens currently registered. The emphasis of the collection is North American lichens, especially the Parmeliaceae. The lichen collection also contains associated research materials including: microscope slides; chemical extracts; chemical identification plates; and SEM photographs and negatives. The bryophyte collection (311,500 specimens) and pteridophyte collection (ferns and fern allies) (280,000 specimens) also rate as particularly significant, both in terms of size and scientific/historic value. The pteridophyte is the largest collection of ferns and fern allies in the United States, almost certainly the most substantial one in the Americas, and among the most significant in the world. It has seen well over a century of continuous specialist curation. It is arranged to reflect a modern understanding of evolutionary relationships and is fully imaged and inventoried. Contact: Eric Schuettpelz

Algal Collection

The Algal Collection is comprised of marine, estuarine, freshwater, terrestrial (including cave), and airborne algae. The collections have increased dramatically over the past two decades and represent an important resource for the study of tropical and subtropical marine taxa. There are almost 500,000 accessioned and inventoried specimens, including herbarium specimens (172,000), microslides (8,300), liquid preserved material (15,000), and bulky material (21,000). Among the collections are 4,700 type specimens. The collection recently acquired an additional 101,000 specimens, featuring crustose coralline algae. Also part of this collection and maintained separately at the MSC, is the Francis Drouet collection (52,000 specimens) comprised mainly, but not exclusively, of cyanobacteria. The non-articulated coralline algae (22,000), as well as a separate diatom collection (37,000) of freshwater and marine specimens of both recent and fossil origin, also are housed at the MSC. The Algal Collection includes specimens collected from throughout the world, with major holdings from the Gulf of California, Pacific Mexico, southern and central California (including the Channel Islands), the Galapagos Islands, Aldabra Atoll, and the Caribbean (especially Florida, Bahamas, Belize, and Panama). Contact: Barrett Brooks

U.S. National Fungus Collections

Smithsonian mycological specimens are housed and curated with the U.S. National Fungus Collections, USDA-ARS, in Beltsville, MD. The Smithsonian collections combined with those of the U.S. Department of Agriculture form the world’s largest fungal herbarium, which has an online searchable database.

Botanical Art and Image Collection

The Department maintains a Botanical Art Collection that serves to document the plant species discovered and described by Smithsonian botanists. The Collection includes over 10,000 works including 5,100 inventoried pieces housed within NMNH. Among the more notable collections are the Margaret Mee paintings, the Frederick A. Walpole drawings and paintings, and the watercolors by M.E. Eaton used to illustrate The Cactaceae (1919-1923) by Britton and Rose. Nearly 2,700 pen and ink drawings, 550 watercolors, and 150 other graphic media are also represented in the collection. An additional 4,200 works are on indefinite loan to the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, including The Hitchcock-Chase Collection of Grass Drawings consisting of 2,713 pieces. The plant images library has over 21,000 photographic images of plant species and their habitats. Contact: Alice Tangerini


The Department has a microtechnique laboratory equipped for anatomy and cytology, which is staffed and maintained for use by researchers and visiting scientists, and a Digital Imaging Studio equipped with scanners and medium-format digital cameras for high-resolution imaging of specimens. A scientific illustration facility is maintained and has a full-time in-residence staff scientific illustrator. The Department also has a greenhouse complex at the MSC with over 7,000 sq. ft. of growing space that houses a diversity of living research plants, including rich collections of Commelinaceae, Euphorbiaceae, Vitaceae, and Zingiberales, as well as blooming corms of the titan arum, Amorphophallus titanum. The greenhouse facility is available for use by staff and associates in cultivating and studying research plants.


Throughout its history, the Department of Botany has maintained an active field research program in the American tropics but has also undertaken numerous collecting trips on the North American continent and in the Old-World tropics.  Areas of concerted fieldwork include Mexico, the Andes, the Caribbean, Pacific Islands, tropical East Africa, and Asia. Often, it is possible to arrange to receive genetic resources, anatomical, cytological or other materials from these expeditions.

Collaborative fieldwork can be arranged with several tropical institutions, such as the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama, the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS) in Costa Rica, and the National Tropical Botanical Garden (NTBG) in Hawaii. Research in marine botany, with emphasis on studies of systematics and functional morphology of selected plants, can be undertaken at the Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce, Florida, and through the Caribbean Coral Reef Ecosystems Program (CCRE) at Carrie Bow Cay, Belize.


The Smithsonian Contributions to Botany is an externally peer-reviewed periodical produced by the Department. The journal provides a vehicle for disseminating the results of the scientific research at the U.S. National Herbarium, such as longer taxonomic papers, checklists, floras, and monographs. The Index Nominum Genericorum, a listing of generic names in all plant groups, is housed and produced in the Department. The Plant Press, the quarterly newsletter from the Department of Botany and the U.S. National Herbarium, provides information about the activities of the Department including articles about staff research and travel, visitors, and new discoveries.

Education and Outreach

Graduate studies are available in conjunction with local universities including George Mason University, George Washington University, Howard University, and the University of Maryland at College Park. The Department hosts an annual Smithsonian Botanical Symposium, which brings together the national and international plant systematics community to address a plant-related topic of current significance.


The Botany and Horticulture Library holds over 60,000 volumes and maintains 300 journal subscriptions. The Library includes the Hitchcock Chase Agrostological Library, an outstanding printed resource for the study of Poaceae. The John A. Stevenson Mycological Library, probably the most complete collection of its kind in the United States, is housed with the U.S. National Fungus Collections in Beltsville, MD, but remains part of the Smithsonian library holdings. The John Donnell Smith Botanical Library and the E. Yale Dawson Phycological Library are especially rich in original editions of classical botanical works. Much of the Department’s fine collection of rare books (pre-1840 imprints) is housed separately in the Cullman Library. Field books, field notes, and/or specimen lists made by Smithsonian botanists and colleagues who collected plant specimens for the U.S. National Herbarium are deposited with the Smithsonian Institution Archives (SIA), but most of these materials are available locally. The Department also has large reprint collections, including the Richard H. Eyde collection with its emphasis on plant anatomy and morphology.

Programs and Partnerships

Biological Diversity of the Guiana Shield

The Biological Diversity of the Guiana Shield Program (BDG) is a field-oriented program initiated in 1983. The goal of the BDG is to study, document, and preserve the biological diversity of the Guiana Shield area of northeastern South America. Among BDG’s accomplishments is a feasibility study to determine the extent of existing plant and animal collections for use by the government of Guyana in establishing parks and reserves. The program has also produced lists of all known plants in the Kaieteur National Park (Guyana), a plant survey for Iwokrama International Rainforest Reserve (Guyana), the “Checklist of the Plants of the Guianas”, and checklists of birds, mammals, fish, and herpetofauna for use by the Government of Guyana, UNESCO and conservation groups. Contact: Carol Kelloff

Plant Conservation Unit

The Plant Conservation Unit promotes and coordinates activities and research that focus on plant conservation and endangered plant species. Among other activities, the unit manages an information service by responding to requests and providing information on world plant conservation, threatened species, habitats, and pertinent literature. Contact: Gary Krupnick

United States Botanic Garden

The Department of Botany has a formal collaboration with the United States Botanic Garden (USBG), bringing together these two institutions that had their common historical 19th century beginnings in the National Institute for the Promotion of Science (1841) and the living and preserved collections resulting from the U.S. South Pacific Exploring Expedition (1838-1842). The USBG is a free-standing institution under the administration of the Architect of the Capitol. The research, field exploration, training, and conservation components provided by the Department in combination with the horticultural and public display elements at the USBG form a highly significant botanical consortium in the Washington area with joint projects on research, botanical exhibition, environmental education, and conservation. Significant collaborations between the two organizations include the Smithsonian Botanical Symposium and the Botanical Partners on the Mall Lecture Series, this last a quarterly event presented at the United States Botanic Garden.

Research Staff

Acevedo, Pedro, Research Botanist and Curator of Botany (Sapindaceae and Caribbean plants). B.A. (1977) University of Puerto Rico; Ph.D. (1989) City University of New York. Research specialties: Systematics or Neotropical Sapindaceae, especially Paullinieae; floristics of the Caribbean Islands (Greater Antilles); taxonomy and evolution of climbing plants. Contact:

Dorr, Laurence J., Research Botanist and Curator of Botany (Malvaceae). B.A. (1976) Washington University; M.A. (1980) University of North Carolina; Ph.D. (1983) University of Texas. Research specialties: Systematics of Malvaceae; tropical African and Malagasy Ericaceae; flora of the northern Andes; botanical history and bibliography. Contact:

Peterson, Paul M., Research Botanist and Curator of Botany (Poaceae). B.A. (1977) Humboldt State University; M.S. (1984) University of Nevada, Las Vegas; Ph.D. (1988) Washington State University. Research specialties: Systematics and floristics of New World grasses; phylogeny and classification of the grass family. Contact:

Schuettpelz, Eric, Chair of Botany; Research Botanist and Associate Curator of Botany (Ferns, Lycophytes and Bryophytes). B.S. (1999), M.S. (2001) University of Wisconsin; Ph.D. (2007) Duke University. Research specialties: Systematics and evolution of ferns, especially leptosporangiate species; epiphytic fern diversification. Contact:

Wagner, Warren L., Research Botanist and Curator of Botany (Onagraceae and Pacific Island Plants). B.A. (1973), M.S. (1977) University of New Mexico; Ph.D. (1981) Washington University. Research specialties: Pacific Basin angiosperm floristics, systematics, phylogeny and biogeography; systematics and evolution of Oenothera (Onagraceae); phylogeny of Caryophyllaceae. Contact:

Wen, Jun, Research Botanist and Curator of Botany (Vitaceae and Asian Plants). B.S. (1984) Central China Agricultural University; Ph.D. (1991) Ohio State University. Research specialties: Systematics of flowering plants, especially Araliaceae; biogeography of the Northern Hemisphere; biogeography of Asia; economic botany. Contact:

Wurdack, Kenneth, Research Botanist and Associate Curator of Botany (Euphorbiaceae, Malpighiales). B.S. (1990) University of Maryland; M.S. (1994), Ph.D. (2002) University of North Carolina. Research specialties: Systematics and evolution of Euphorbiaceae and Malpighiales; molecular and genome evolution. Contact:

Affiliated Research Staff

Ballantine, David L., Research Associate. B.A. (1969) Southampton College, Long Island University; M.A. (1973) University of South Florida; Ph.D. (1977) University of Puerto Rico.  Research specialties: Marine algae; Systematics of Peyssonneliales; floristics of Caribbean deep-water flora. Contact:

Norris, James N., Research Scientist Emeritus. B.A. (1968), M.A. (1971) San Francisco State University; Ph.D. (1975) University of California, Santa Barbara. Research specialties: Systematics and ecology of benthic marine algae, especially tropical and subtropical species. Contact:

Romaschenko, Konstantyn, Research Associate. M.S. (1992) Donetsk State University, Ukraine; Ph.D. (1997) M.G. Kholodny Institute of Botany in Kiev, Ukraine. Research specialties: Molecular phylogeny, systematics, and biogeography of grasses (Poaceae); taxonomy and evolutionary history of Stipeae (Poaceae). Contact:

Skog, Laurence E., Research Scientist Emeritus. B.A. (1965) University of Minnesota; M.S. (1968) University of Connecticut; Ph.D. (1972) Cornell University. Research specialties: Systematics of wild and cultivated Neotropical Gesneriaceae; Neotropical floristics, especially flora of the Guianas. Contact:

Soreng, Robert, Research Associate. B.S. (1978) Oregon State University; M.S. (1980), Ph.D. (1986) New Mexico State University. Research specialties: Systematics, taxonomy, nomenclature; biogeography, breeding systems, and morphology of Poaceae, Pooideae, and Poa. Contact:

Stull, Gregory W., Research Associate. B.A. (2010) Ohio Wesleyan University; Ph.D. (2016) University of Florida. Research specialties: Evolution and systematics of flowering plants; fruit and seed morphology; paleobotany; floras of Mesoamerica, North America, and Southeast Asia; Northern Hemisphere biogeography. Contact:

Taylor, W. Carl, Research Associate. B.A. (1969) University of Missouri; M.S. (1973), Ph.D. (1976) Southern Illinois University. Research specialties: Systematics of Isoëtes (Isoetaceae). Contact:

Wiersema, John H., Research Associate. B.S. (1974) Western Michigan University; M.S. (1979), Ph.D. (1984) University of Alabama. Research specialties: international rules of nomenclature; systematics of Nymphaeales, Nymphaeaceae, and especially Nymphaea. Contact:

Zimmer, Elizabeth Anne, Emeritus. B.A. (1973) Cornell University; Ph.D. (1981) University of California, Berkeley. Research specialties: Molecular systematics of flowering plants; development of molecular markers across a range of species divergences. Contact:

Department of Entomology

The mission of the Department of Entomology is to describe and understand the phylogenetic and biological diversity of insects and other terrestrial arthropods through global field and laboratory research, to care for and improve the world’s largest accessible and most comprehensive terrestrial arthropod collection, and to disseminate these discoveries. The Department consists of staff from four government agencies: the Smithsonian Institution, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Systematic Entomology Laboratory (SEL), Department of Agriculture, National Identification Services, APHIS-PPQ and the U.S. Department of Defense, Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, Walter Reed Biosystematics Unit (WRBU). This combined community represents, by far, the greatest concentration of entomological expertise in the world.


Research in the Department of Entomology is primarily collections-based and focused on systematics in the broadest sense, including basic taxonomy, comparative morphology, and life history of insects, as well as evolutionary and population biology, phylogenetics and phylogenomics, biogeography, biodiversity, ecology, behavior, comparative genomics, and molecular genetic studies.


The U.S. National Entomological Collection at the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) ranks as probably the largest accessible insect collection in the world with approximately 34 million specimens including over 120,000 primary types plus secondary types. With specimens from worldwide locations, the collections are second to none in coverage for the Nearctic and Neotropical regions. Specimens from the Old World are also well represented, especially from Sri Lanka, the Philippines, China, and Papua New Guinea. Although the bulk of the collection is kept dry, various groups—such as spiders, adult aquatic insects, and insect larvae—are stored in ethanol. There is also an extensive slide collection of aphids, scales, mealybugs, and thrips. The collections are typically arranged taxonomically. Lower taxonomic levels (family, genus, species) are generally arranged alphabetically, and for select orders, e.g. Lepidoptera, further organized by country of origin. For some groups, collections are currently housed off-site as part of the collaborative Off-Site Enhancement Program with other institutions. All families have been recently profiled by storage unit (drawer, jar, slide box) as to their curatorial health. There is an ever expanding image library being built for many groups, especially for the primary type specimens. The collections are supplemented by the Entomological Illustration Archives, totaling over 10,000 illustrations created to support the research publications of Department entomologists and to be available to the external scientific and public communities, as well as the Entomology Original Documents Archives, which are important correspondence, field notes, unpublished research, etc., that are directly tied to specimens in the collection.

The collections include a very large ectoparasite collection, worldwide in coverage and with important medical and veterinary entomology components: the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) collections of Anoplura and Siphonaptera; the Carriker collection of Mallophaga (containing 650 type specimens of Neotropical species); the K.C. Emerson collection of Mallophaga; the Jellison collection of ectoparasites; the Dalgleish lice collection (including many primary types); and projects sampling mammals in Panama, Venezuela, and Africa have produced large additions to the ectoparasite collections. Contact: Floyd Shockley

Arachnid Collections – mites, ticks, spiders

Among the arachnid collections, the largest and most significant is the Acari (mite) Collection, currently housed at the USDA Beltsville Agricultural Research Center (BARC) in Maryland. It is the finest in existence for mites parasitizing humans, animals and plants. The collection includes over 332,000 slides, 14,000 vials and 1,925 primary types. Some of the most important type components include: the collection of H.E. Ewing and I. M. Newell; nearly complete collection of E.W. Baker, C. E. Yunker and A.P. Jacot; important specimens of N. Banks; and type specimens representing all of the new species described by A. Fain from the Congo. The myriapod holdings rate second only to the Acarina, with special strength in New World specimens. The collection contains nearly all of the types of C.H. Bollman, R.V. Chamberlin, O.F. Cook, R.E. Crabill, R.L. Hoffman, H.F. Loomis, and J. McNeill. The Tick Collection (1 million) was acquired by F.C. Bishopp and later combined with the collection of the Rocky Mountain Laboratory of the National Institutes of Health, Hamilton, MO, and contains 222 holotypes (26% of the know species in the world). The Tick collection is housed off-site (Georgia Southern University) through the cooperative Off-site Enhancement Program. The Spider Collection counts over 200,000 specimens, mostly from the New World, and has over 300 types. Notable collectors include: N. Banks, R.V. Chamberlin, H. Exline, I. Fox, E.V. Keyserling, G. Marx, A. Petrunkevitch, and E. Simon.

Coleoptera Collections – beetles, weevils

The Coleoptera Collection, numbering about 12 million specimens including 26,000 types, includes adult and immature beetles and is the largest accessible beetle collection in the New World. The NMNH Coleoptera holdings include the historic T.L. Casey Collection, comprised of almost 117,000 specimens representing over 20,000 species, including 9,200 types. Other important material comes from the historic collections of G.H. Dieke and R. Korschefsky (Coccinellidae); F. Monros, D. Blake, I. Lopatin (Chrysomelidae); J.D. Sherman (aquatic Coleoptera); F.F. Tippman (Cerambycidae); O.L. Cartwright (Scarabaeidae and Cicindelinae); and P. Spangler (aquatic Coleoptera). SI and USDA-SEL staff have added significant specimens, including well over 5 million specimens collected from the canopy of Neotropical rain-forests by T. L. Erwin. The collection of beetle larvae and pupae, acquired through the efforts of A.G. Boving, is worldwide in representation and one of the largest in existence. Most Scarabaeidae are housed at the University of Nebraska, State Museum through a cooperative Off-site Enhancement Program. In 2009 the S. L. Wood Bark Beetle collection of over 80,000 specimens, including about 1,200 primary types, was added.

Diptera Collections – flies, mosquitoes

The collections of Diptera rank among the most extensive in the world, with more than 53,000 species, 3.2 Million pinned specimens, 600,000 slide-mounted specimens, 3,238 jars of vials of specimens in alcohol, and some 26,000 primary type specimens. Several large acquisitions, such as the collections of C.P. Alexander (1,600,000 specimens in 1981), P.H. Arnaud, Jr. (700,000 in 2000), A.L. Melander (250,000 in 1961), J.N. Belkin (250,000 in 1980), S.W. Bromley (35,000 in 1955), A.E. Pritchard (27,000 in 1962), J.P. Duret (14,000 in 1990), L.E. Rozeboom (12,000 in 1998) as well as the collections of C.H.T. Townsend (Oestroidea), R.H. Painter (Bombyliidae) and C.F. Baker (1928, Philippine Diptera) greatly expanded coverage and added a considerable number of specimens. The collection is part of active research globally and holds important collections, especially in Tipulidae, Culicidae, Cecidomyiidae, Stratiomyidae, Bombyliidae, Asilidae, Empididae, Syrphidae, Tephritidae, Chloropidae, Sciomyzidae, Lauxaniidae, Coelopidae, Aulacigastridae, Canacidae, Ephydridae, Tachinidae, Sarcophagidae, Muscidae, and Calliphoridae. The Department serves as the world center for mosquito research through study by WRBU, who have described well over 100 new species of mosquitoes. The Mosquito Collection counts more than 750,000 pinned specimens including 1,200 primary types located at the MSC in Suitland, MD. The Bombyliidae, Pipunculidae, and Lauxanoidea are currently taken care of by other researchers in the Off-site Collection Enhancement Program (Bishop Museum, Canadian National Collection, and California Department of Food and Agriculture, respectively).

Hemiptera Collections – true bugs, cicadas, aphids, whiteflies, psyllids

The Hemiptera Collection (Heteroptera plus Homoptera) is the largest in the world and is located at the NMNH (NHB and MSC) and at BARC (USDA). Although New World holdings predominate, the Old World holdings are rapidly expanding. The collection incorporates many important private collections including: A.C. Baker, H.G. Barber, C.K. Brian, T.D.A. Cockerell, C.J. Drake (including the H. Hacker, M.S. Pennington, C.E. Reed collections), A. Fitch, W.D. Funkhouser, F.W. Goding, H.M. Harris, F.C. Hottes, H.H. Knight, N.A. Kormilev, W.L. McAtee, T. Pergande, P.R. Uhler, R. A. Poisson, and, more recently, the J.T. Polhemus collection of aquatic and semi-aquatic Heteroptera, the J. Maldonado collection of Miridae and Reduviidae, a large part of the R. M. Baranowski collection of Lygaeoidea and the W. Ullrich collection. The Whitefly Collection (Aleyrodidae) is one of the world’s best collections, with over 32,500 microscope slide-mounts representing more than 1,100 species, and an extensive collection of dry preserved material. The collection includes more than 300 primary types. The Psyllid Collection includes both pinned (more than 20,000) and slide-mounted (more than 5,000) specimens which include more than 300 primary types. The Aphidoidea Collection contains more than 90,000 slides representing over 2,400 species. The subset Aphid Collection contains primary type material for 747 species which includes 1,380 primary type slides. The Coccoidea Collection (scale insects) consists of over 146,000 slides and has more than 280 primary types as well as a large collection of unmounted dry material containing several million specimens.

Hymenoptera Collections – ants, bees, wasps

The Hymenoptera collection numbers over 4 million specimens, mostly from the Western Hemisphere but with increasing representation from Africa and Asia. Currently, over 15,700 primary types are deposited here. The Hymenoptera collection contains about 95% of described hymenopteran families and about 75% of described genera. Notable collectors include W. Brodie, A. W. Stelfox, D.R. Smith, M.R. Smith, W.M. Mann, T. Pergande, and W. Ashmead, but a more comprehensive list can be found in the 1976 “The United States National Entomological Collections.” Recent notable acquisitions include the collections of M. Wing (ants), M. Talbot (ants), A. Van Pelt (ants, general), J.F. Watkins (army ants), R. Copeland (African Hymenoptera), and J. Shorthouse (rose gall wasps and their parasitoids), as well as large numbers of specimens generated by the coordinated field work of the current cohort of research entomologists. Currently the most actively researched groups are the Aculeata (ants, bees, stinging wasps), Symphyta (sawflies), Ichneumonoidea, and Proctotrupomorpha.

Isoptera, Orthoptera, Thysanoptera Collections – termites, grasshoppers & crickets, thrips

The Termite (Isoptera) Collection has 240,000 specimens and is the second largest in the world, including 1,150 of the known 2,000 species, and 943 types. The Grasshoppers, Katydids, Crickets (Orthoptera) have about 400,000 specimens—perhaps the 3rd largest collection in the world, about 3,000 species, and with 793 types. The Thrips (Thysanoptera) have 108,722 slides, and 1,118 types. These collections are located at the MSC in Maryland.

Lepidoptera Collections – butterflies, moths

The Lepidoptera Collection has 2.9 million pinned and labeled specimens, including about 25,000 primary types. There are about 3,000 alcohol jars with immature stages. The collection has the most complete representation of both larvae (123,000 specimens) and adults in the Western Hemisphere. Included are about 100,000 microscope slides, mainly of moth genitalia. The collection is particularly rich in Nearctic and Neotropical species as well as Palearctic material for most families. The Microlepidoptera collection contains excellent coverage of Far Eastern species. Important holdings include: W. Barnes (450,000 pinned specimens), A. Blanchard (60,000), A.E. Brower (115,000), P. Dognin (50,000), D.C. Ferguson (50,000), M. Gentili (12,000), S. Issiki (16,000), E. Jackh (55,000), F. M. Jones (10,000), A. Kawabe (22,000), S. Nicolay (100,000), J. Robert (40,000), and G. B. Small (25,000). Other important Insecta order holdings include Trichoptera, Plecoptera, Neuroptera, Mecoptera, Odonata.


Both dry and wet collections are housed in new, airtight, pest-proof, metal specimen cabinets, about half of which are on electric compactors. The collections are enhanced by specially constructed alcohol (wet collection) storage rooms and facilities for housing reprint libraries. Modern chemical storage facilities, equipment and supplies are stored in compactor systems, walk-in and reach-in freezers, critical point dryers, and ventilated sorting center all support state-of-the-art collections care. The Department has state-of-the-art digital photographic stations for use by staff, researchers and visitors. The Entomology Molecular Systematics Laboratory, a shared facility managed by WRBU at the Museum Support Center, is also available for research investigations, in addition to the molecular facilities of the Smithsonian’s Laboratory of Analytical Biology.


Field studies are conducted in many parts of the United States, Mexico, Central and South America, the Asia-Pacific region, and, to a lesser extent, in Europe, Africa, and Australia. Museum entomologists currently participate in long-term biodiversity survey projects in Costa Rica (Arthropods of La Selva), Dominican Republic, Leaf Litter Arthropods of Mesoamerica, Peru, Guyana, Papua New Guinea, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and Kenya, among others. Past and present major projects in Sri Lanka, Ecuador, Peru, Madagascar, and Papua New Guinea have yielded millions of specimens for research. A series of canopy-fogging projects in Central and South America, initiated in 1974, has produced nearly 9 million specimens.


Members of the Department traditionally serve as officers of the Entomological Society of Washington, which publishes the Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Washington and the Memoirs of the Entomological Society of Washington. Departmental staff also serve as editors of the Journal of the International Society of Hymenopterists, Insect Conservation and Diversity, ZooKeys, etc., as well as on editorial boards of many other journals around the world.

Education and Outreach

The Department of Entomology has a proven history of training postdoctoral researchers as well as graduate and undergraduate students with special partnerships through the Smithsonian-USDA-University of Maryland MCSE (Maryland Center for Systematic Entomology) program. Members of the Department participate in Bioblitzes locally and elsewhere in the country.


The Entomology Library contains over 23,000 volumes, including 120 journal subscriptions on insect systematics, ecology, behavior, and related areas. The collection is especially rich in the areas of taxonomy and anatomy of insects and related arthropods, especially arachnids.

Programs and Partnerships

Maryland Center for Systematic Entomology (MCSE)

Founded in 1981, the MCSE is a consortium for research and training in the systematics of insects and allied groups. Graduate students are enrolled in the Department of Entomology, University of Maryland, with a Smithsonian or USDA-SEL scientist as co-advisor. Research focus includes tropical biology, ecology, evolutionary biology, behavior, molecular systematics, and systematic methods, in addition to the systematics and biogeography of virtually all the major groups of terrestrial arthropods. Contact: Ted Schultz

Research Staff

Brady, Seán G., Chair of Entomology, Research Entomologist and Curator of Hymenoptera. B.A. (1990) California Polytechnic University, Pomona; M.A. (1993) California State University, Fullerton; Ph.D. (2002) University of California, Davis. Research specialties: Phylogenomics, systematics, evolution, biogeography, and comparative genomics of aculeate Hymenoptera (bees, ants, stinging wasps); phylogenetic methodology; social insect biology; evolution of pollinators. Contact:

Coddington, Jonathan A., Senior Research Entomologist and Curator of Arachnida and Myriapoda. B.A. (1975) Yale; M.A. (1978), Ph.D. (1984) Harvard University. Research specialties: Systematics and behavior of spiders; species richness estimation; theory and design of biological inventories.  Genomics and curation of genomic collections. Contact:

Dikow, Torsten, Research Entomologist and Curator of Diptera. M.S. (2002) Universitaet Rostock, Germany; Ph.D. (2007) Cornell University. Research specialties: Phylogeny of asiloid flies (Apioceridae, Asilidae, Mydidae) and Diptera in general using morphological and molecular evidence; revisionary taxonomy applying cybertaxonomic tools; application of specimen occurrence data to biodiversity studies; theory and methods of phylogenetic analysis. Contact:

Miller, Scott E., Senior Research Entomologist and Curator of Lepidoptera. B.A. (1981) University of California, Santa Barbara; Ph.D. (1986) Harvard University. Research specialties: Systematics of Lepidoptera (moths); biogeography of Pacific Basin, New Guinea, and Africa; plant-insect community ecology. Contact:

Robbins, Robert K., Research Entomologist and Curator of Lepidoptera. B.A. (1969) Brown University; Ph.D. (1978) Tufts University. Research specialties: Systematics of Lycaenidae, evolutionary biology of butterflies, patterns of butterfly diversity. Contact:

Schultz, Ted R., Research Entomologist and Curator of Hymenoptera. B.A. (1988) University of California, Berkeley; Ph.D. (1995) Cornell University. Research specialties: Evolution and systematics of ants, especially the fungus-growing ants (subtribe Attina, tribe Attini, subfamily Myrmicinae); phylogenetics of fungus-farming ants and their cultivated fungi; symbiotic evolution and coevolution; the evolution of agriculture; phylogenetic theory and practice. Contact:

Wood, Hannah M., Research Entomologist and Curator of Arachnida and Myriapoda. B.A. (1999) University of California, Berkeley; M.A. (2005) San Francisco State University; Ph.D. (2011) University of California, Berkeley. Research specialties: Systematics and phylogenetics of palpimanoid spiders, functional morphology, trait evolution, biogeography. Contact:

Affiliated Research Staff

Buffington, Matthew, Research Entomologist, Systematic Entomology Lab., ARS-USDA. B.S. (1997) University of California, Riverside; M.S. (2000) Texas A&M; Ph.D. (2005) University of California, Riverside. Research specialties: Systematics of parasitic Hymenoptera, specifically the Cynipoidea, Proctotrupoidea and Platygastroidea; molecular systematics; digital imaging techniques involving small insects. Contact:

Burns, John M., Curator of Lepidoptera Emeritus. A.B. (1954) Johns Hopkins University; M.A. (1957), Ph.D. (1961) University of California, Berkeley. Research specialties: Systematics and evolutionary biology of butterflies (chiefly skippers, Hesperiidae) at and around the species level, with special attention to genitalia, foodplants, and DNA barcodes; biological poetry. Contact:

Chamorro, Lourdes, Research Entomologist, Systematic Entomology Lab., ARS-USDA. B.S. (1998) Ohio State University; Ph.D. (2009) University of Minnesota, St. Paul. Research specialties: Systematics of Curculionoidea, specifically Dryophthorinae (palm weevils) and Eustylini (Entiminae) (broad nose weevils). Contact:

Davis, Donald R., Curator of Lepidoptera Emeritus. B.A. (1956) University of Kansas; Ph.D. (1962) Cornell University. Research specialties: Systematics and phylogeny of the basal families of Lepidoptera including the superfamilies Tineoidea and Gracillarioidea; biology of leaf-mining and cave-dwelling moths. Contact:

Gates, Michael W., Research Entomologist, Systematic Entomology Lab., ARS-USDA. B.A. (1992) Hendrix College; M.S. (1995) Oklahoma State University; Ph.D. (2000) University of California, Riverside. Research specialties: Taxonomy and systematics of Chalcidoidea (Hymenoptera), especially Eurytomidae and Eulophidae; collecting techniques, rearing and diversity of Chalcidoidea; digital imaging and image databasing. Contact:

Goldstein, Paul Z., Research Entomologist, Systematic Entomology Lab., ARS-USDA. B.A. (1991) Harvard University; Ph.D. (1999) University of Connecticut. Research specialties: Phylogenetic systematics, life history evolution, and host plant associations of moths, especially Noctuoidea; faunal change and comparative faunistics; phylogenetic theory, molecular systematics, and species diagnostic tools. Contact:

Henry, Thomas J., Research Entomologist, Systematic Entomology Lab., ARS-USDA. B.A. (1971) Purdue University; M.S. (1980) Pennsylvania State University; Ph.D. (1995) University of Maryland. Research specialties: Systematics of Heteroptera (Hemiptera), especially Berytidae and Miridae. Contact:

Konstantinov, Alexander S., Research Entomologist, Systematic Entomology Lab., ARS-USDA. M.A. (1981) Byelorussian State University; Ph.D. (1988) Zoological Institute, St. Petersburg. Research specialties: Systematics, comparative morphology, biogeography, and host plants relationships of leaf beetles (Chrysomelidae) with particular emphasis on flea beetles, worldwide.  Contact:

Kula, Robert, Research Entomologist, Systematic Entomology Lab., ARS-USDA. B.S. (1998) Peru State College; M.S. (2001) Texas A&M University; Ph.D. (2006) Kansas State University. Research specialties: Systematics of Ichneumonoidea, particularly parasitoids of cyclorrhaphous flies. Contact:

Linton, Yvonne-Marie, Research Entomologist.  B.S. Zoology (1995) University of Aberdeen, Scotland; Ph.D. (1999) University of Aberdeen, Scotland. Research specialties: Phylogenetics, integrated systematics, biogeography, evolution, bionomics and vector incrimination of global Culicidae (mosquitoes), sand flies and ticks; DNA barcoding; bio- and xeno-surveillance for novel and emerging pathogens of human interest. Contact:

McKamey, Stuart H., Research Entomologist, Systematic Entomology Lab., ARS-USDA. B.S. (1985) University of California, Berkeley; M.S. (1989) North Carolina State University; Ph.D. (1994) University of Connecticut. Re-search specialties: Biosystematics of Auchenorrhyncha, principally Membracoidea (leafhoppers and treehoppers). Contact:

Metz, Mark A., Research Entomologist, Systematic Entomology Lab., ARS-USDA. B.S. (1988) UCLA; M.S. (1995) California State University, Northridge; Ph.D. (2002) University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Research specialties: Evolutionary biology, systematics, and comparative morphology of Microlepidoptera; computer and information systems and quantitative methodologies in biology. Contact:

Norrbom, Allen L., Research Entomologist, Systematic Entomology Lab., ARS-USDA. B.A. (1980) Drexel University; M.S. (1983), Ph.D. (1985) Pennsylvania State University. Research specialties: Systematics (taxonomy, nomenclature, identification) and natural history of true fruit flies (Insecta: Diptera: Tephritidae) and related families. Contact:

Solis, M. Alma, Research Entomologist, Systematic Entomology Lab., ARS-USDA. B.A. (1978), M.A. (1982) University of Texas, Austin; Ph.D. (1989) University of Maryland. Research specialties: Systematics of snout moths (Pyraloidea); Pyraloidea of Neotropical areas, particularly Costa Rica. Contact:

Department of Invertebrate Zoology

The Department of Invertebrate Zoology (IZ) is dedicated to the study of invertebrate animals (exclusive of hexapods, myriapods and arachnids) and enhancing the scientific value of the National Collection to understand the natural environment. Among the NMNH biology departments, Invertebrate Zoology spans the greatest phyletic diversity and all major habitats, from the equator to the poles and from the depths of the oceans to the peaks of the tallest mountains. Its research staff includes resident affiliated staff of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency.


The Department of Invertebrate Zoology supports original research on all major invertebrate animal groups except hexapods, myriapods and arachnids. Research efforts are collections-informed and focus on systematics, phylogeny, morphology, life histories, biogeography, ecology, and molecular analyses from genes to genomics. Though the department has a strong marine focus, it also hosts research programs with important conservation elements on terrestrial and freshwater groups, including worms and mollusks, as well as on parasites. Department scientists continue to discover and document the wealth of unknown invertebrate diversity. In addition, they increasingly are focused on the nexus of species delimitation and population genetics. Research programs often are collections-oriented and include field components. Marine sites near Smithsonian laboratories on the coasts of Florida, Belize, as well as Caribbean and Pacific Panama have been studied especially extensively. Currently there is a strong focus on southwestern Pacific and Indo-Pacific sites such as French Polynesia, Indonesia and Philippines, among others. Marine specimens are obtained by hand, SCUBA, ship-based trawls, dredges and plankton nets, as well as deep submersibles and underwater remotely operated vehicles. A plot of invertebrate zoology specimen collection sites outlines all coasts and covers much of the globe. Current department scientists study invertebrates throughout the world, driven by distribution and knowledge gaps for their particular interests.


The approximately 70 million specimens of the U.S. National Invertebrate Collection are organized into collections primarily by traditional phyla, but also as plankton, meiofauna and animal parasites, and the Department recently became the new home for the US National Parasite Collection (comprised primarily of animal parasites). Included are representatives from all currently recognized invertebrate phyla. The collections are housed on over 18 miles of shelving, in 16,500 drawers with a combined storage area of 2.3 acres, and 70 steel tanks. They include about 70,000 lots of types or about 335,000 individual type specimens. Each year approximately 100,000 specimens are loaned to students and researchers around the world and about 15,000 new specimens are added to the collection. About 75% of the specimens in the collection are fluid-stored (alcohol) and 25% dry. The alcohol collections of the Department of Invertebrate Zoology are in an offsite collection storage facility in the MSC. The facility offers state-of-the-art environmental controls, life safety systems, storage for collections, and labs for Museum and visiting scientists.

Incorporated into the general reference collections are significant holdings originating from federally-funded programmatic studies, including more than 92,000 lots from the US Department of Commerce fishery surveys (NOAA/NMFS and its precursors) and more than 192,000 lots from the US Department of the Interior from site surveys for oil and gas leases (BOEM, MMS and USGS), which include more than 76,000 lots of invertebrate collected from the Gulf of Mexico. Also included are more than 40,000 lots of polar invertebrates the majority collected in conjunction with NSF’s US Antarctic Program (USAP). The collections also feature specimens collected from surveys of hydrothermal vents. Collections for Crustacea, Mollusks and Parasites are our largest but most of the department’s other collections rate, among their counterparts, as the most important or among the few most important in the world.


The Crustacean collection is the world’s largest, with more than 600,000 lots and about 25,250 lots of types. Of the approximately 5,200 known genera of Crustacea, 4,800, or 91%, are represented in the collection. The crayfish collection is one of the most extensive in the world.


The mollusk collection holds more than 1 million lots and over 12,000 primary types. Special strengths include gastropods and bivalves of North America, Indo-Pacific marine fauna, world-wide Cephalopoda, and Southern Ocean fauna. Spring snails in the US and Mexican deserts have been studied extensively to track current and past watercourses.


The United States National Parasite Collection (USNPC) was established in 1892 and acquired by the Department of Invertebrate Zoology in 2013. It is a cornerstone of global and North American parasitology, is one of the most active parasite collections in the world and had been maintained by scientists and curators of the Agricultural Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture for 70 years. The USNPC holdings include more than 100,000 catalogued lots of animal parasites, focusing on helminthes and to a lesser extent other groups; included are approximately 3,000 holotypes and 7,000 type series.  Contact: Anna Phillips

Other Invertebrates

The collections include over 100,000 lots of Cnidaria including 3,680 types; 70,000 lots of Porifera/Protozoa with 7,312 types; and 30,000 lots of Tunicata, with over 300 types. Approximately 98% of the known echinoderm families are represented in the collections. The worm collection totals over 92,000 lots and 9,350 lots of types. Collections for annelids (especially oligochaetes, leeches, branchiobdellids, polychaetes, sipunculans, and vestimentiferans), nematodes and nemerteans are considered world class in size as well as in taxonomic and geographic coverage.


The Department of Invertebrate Zoology has a histology laboratory for traditional anatomical preparations as well as preparing specimens for scanning electron microscopy (SEM). A paraffin embedding center, manual rotary microtomes, staining center and warming trays are available for use. Standard compound and dissecting microscopes are available for examining and photodocumenting prepared specimens. Specialized equipment includes one ultramicrotome for thin-sectioning (but no TEM). The IZ AquaRoom is available for maintaining aquaria of living freshwater and marine animals.

Education and Outreach

The Department of Invertebrate Zoology participates in several cooperative graduate education programs, including formal affiliations with American University, College of William and Mary, George Mason University, George Washington University, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Miami, University of Louisiana, Lafayette, and University of Maryland, College Park. Department staff serve on graduate committees for a variety of universities in the United States and throughout the world. The departmental Facebook, Twitter (@InvertebratesDC) and blog (No Bones) are used to share activities of the IZ community and invertebrate zoology in general.


The Invertebrate Zoology Library currently holds over 5,000 volumes and maintains 27 journal subscriptions, focusing on systematics and taxonomy; morphology, anatomy and physiology; ecology and distribution; genetics and evolution; and paleobiology of invertebrates. The Department also houses a superb collection of invertebrate reprints on sponges, mollusks, polychaete worms, parasites, oligochaetes, crustaceans, nematodes, and nemerteans. The Wilson Copepod Library contains all known literature for copepods and branchiurans, and a comprehensive database with over 49,000 bibliographic entries. The Rathbun Library (Crustacea) has approximately 2,100 items, including 6 journal subscriptions. The Mollusks collection incorporates the gift of the William Healy Dall Library and contains about 7,000 volumes and 56 journal subscriptions on recent and fossil malacology, including Bivalvia, Gastropoda and Cephalopoda. There are also comprehensive specialty libraries covering the Echinodermata, Cnidaria, Porifera and Annelida.

Research Staff

Meyer, Christopher, Chair of Invertebrate Zoology, Research Zoologist and Curator of Mollusks, Echinoderms and Tunicates. B.A. (1988) Colgate University; M.A. (1992) University of California, Berkeley; Ph.D. (1998) University of California, Berkeley. Research specialties: Marine speciation, diversification, biogeography and phylogeography, phylogeny and systematics of Cypraeidae; DNA barcoding, metabarcoding, and eDNA; Global ARMS (Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structures) Program; assembly and maintenance of tropical reef communities. Contact:

Osborn, Karen, Research Zoologist and Curator of Polychaeta, Crustacea and Plankton. B.S. Zoology (1996) Andrews University, M.S. (1999) Western Washington University, Ph.D. (2007) University of California Berkeley. Research specialties: Evolutionary biology of deep, pelagic invertebrates, specifically Polychaeta and Peracarida. Contact:

Pfeiffer, John,  Research Zoologist.  B.S. (2010) Northern Michigan University, M.S. (2012) University of Alabama, Ph.D. (2019) University of Florida.  Research specialties: Systematics, evolution, and ecology of Unionoida, a charismatic but critically endangered group of freshwater mussels.  Contact:

Phillips, Anna J., Research Zoologist and Curator of Clitellata (Annelidae) and parasitic worms. B.S. (2006) Appalachian State University, Ph.D. (2011) The City University of New York. Research specialties: Biodiversity, phylogenetic relationships, and evolutionary history of parasitic worms, with emphasis on leeches and tapeworms. Contact:

Quattrini, Andrea,  Research Zoologist.  B.S. (1999) Millersville University, M.S. (2002) University of North Carolina, Wilmington, Ph.D. (2014) Temple University. Research specialties: Systematics, evolutionary biology, biological oceanography, and community ecology of Octocorallia.  Contact:

Strong, Ellen, Research Zoologist and Curator of Mollusks. B.A. (1991) University of California, Berkeley; Ph.D. (2000) George Washington University. Research specialties: Phylogeny, diversity and systematics of the Caenogastropoda based on morphological and molecular data; evolution and diversity of freshwater gastropods; evolution of feeding biology in the Mollusca (Caenogastropoda; Bivalvia). Contact:

Affiliated Research Staff

Cairns, Stephen D., Research Zoologist Emeritus. B.A. (1971) University of New Orleans; M.S. (1973), Ph.D. (1976) University of Miami. Research specialties: Systematics, zoogeography, mineralogy, and phylogeny of Neogene to Recent Scleractinia, Octocorallia and Stylasteridae worldwide. Contact:

Collins, Allen G., Curator for Cnidaria, Porifera and Protozoa; Director, Systematics Laboratory, National Marine Fisheries Service, Department of Commerce. B.A. (1987) Amherst College; Ph.D. (1999) University of California, Berkeley. Research specialties: Evolutionary history and systematics of cnidarians and sponges. Contact:

Harasewych, M.G., Research Zoologist Emeritus. B.A. (1972) Drexel University; M.S. (1978), Ph.D. (1982) University of Delaware. Research specialties: Systematics, molecular evolution, biogeography and population genetics of gastropod mollusks, worldwide; Deep-sea Mollusca; Cerion, Pleurotomariidae, Neogastropoda. Contact:

Lemaitre, Rafael, Research Zoologist Emeritus. B.A. (1977) Universidad J. Tadeo Lozano; M.S. (1981) Florida International University; Ph.D. (1986) University of Miami. Research specialties: Systematics, biology, and zoogeography of decapod crustaceans, especially hermit crabs, worldwide. Contact:

Nizinski, Martha, Curator of Crustacea, Systematics Laboratory, National Marine Fisheries Service, Department of Commerce. B.S. (1983) West Virginia Wesleyan College; M.S. (1986) University of Maryland; Ph.D. (1998) College of William and Mary. Research specialties: Taxonomy, systematics and biodiversity of decapod crustaceans, especially squat lobsters; biodiversity and community ecology of the invertebrate faunal assemblage associated with deepwater coral habitats. Contact:

Norenburg, Jon, Research Zoologist Emeritus. B.A. (1973), M.S. (1976) Acadia University; Ph.D. (1983) Northeastern University. Research specialties: Morphological and molecular phylogeny, phylogeography, biogeography and functional anatomy of nemertean worms, worldwide; biology and zoogeography of soft-bodied marine interstitial fauna, worldwide. Contact:

Pawson, David L., Senior Scientist Emeritus. B.A. (1960), M.S. (1961), Ph.D. (1964) Victoria University. Research specialties: Systematics and ecology of echinoderms, especially sea cucumbers and sea urchins, worldwide; reproductive biology; hybridization. Contact:

Ruetzler, Klaus, Research Biologist Emeritus. Matura (1955) Realgymnasium, Vienna; Ph.D. (1963) University of Vienna. Research specialties: Systematics and biology of sponges; marine ecology, especially of Caribbean coral reefs and mangroves. Contact:

Vecchione, Michael, Curator of Cephalopod and Pteropod Mollusks, Systematics Laboratory, National Marine Fisheries Service, Department of Commerce. B.S. (1972) University of Miami; Ph.D. (1979) College of William and Mary. Research specialties: Systematics, development, biogeography, and ecology of cephalopods. Contact:


Department of Mineral Sciences

The mission of the Department of Mineral Sciences is to seek answers to questions about the origin of the solar system, planetary differentiation, the debate about possible traces of ancient extraterrestrial life, insights into crustal and mantle processes that are linked to understanding volcanism, earthquakes and plate tectonics and improve knowledge of interactions of minerals with the hydrosphere, atmosphere, and biosphere.


Broad, long-term research now underway in the Department of Mineral Sciences includes studies of rocks dredged and drilled from the deep oceans; field and laboratory investigations of active volcanoes; systematic investigations of major mineral groups, including crystallographic and structural examination; analysis of global volcanic patterns for the past 10,000 years; chemical and mineralogical and physical analysis of meteorites; geochemistry of metamorphic rocks and fluids; the tectonic evolution of high pressure low temperature metamorphic terrains; fluid-mineral-microbe interaction and biomineralization. Research strengths include meteoritics, mineralogy, petrology, and volcanology.


The Department of Mineral Sciences curates collections of minerals, gems, rocks, ores, meteorites, tektites, and volcanic data/images that are among the largest and most complete in the world. The ever-expanding collections constitute large reservoirs of source material for a great variety of research questions in meteoritics, mineralogy, petrology, geochemistry, and economic geology.

National Gem and Mineral Collection

The National Gem and Mineral Collection is one of the greatest collections of its kind in the world with highly prized objects as well as comprehensive mineralogical reference material. The collection traces its origins to the minerals that were bequeathed by James Smithson, along with the money to establish the Smithsonian Institution, over 150 years ago. The collection adds specimens through gifts, purchases using private endowments established for that purpose, field collection, and exchange. In particular, the gem collection has been built almost entirely by gifts from individuals. There are approximately 262,000 mineral specimens and over 17,000 gems, making it one of the largest of its kind in the world including such famous pieces as the Hope Diamond and the Star of Asia Sapphire. Contacts: Russell Feather, Paul Pohwat, Ioan Lascu

National Rock and Ore Collection

The National Rock and Ore Collection is divided into over 40 sub-collections. These collections together number about 346,500 catalogued and computer inventoried specimens. Large and very well-documented collections of mantle xenoliths, ocean basin lavas, ores and edifice and eruption keyed volcanic rocks have worldwide coverage. Additional highlights include historically significant collections, especially of the United States Geological Survey specimens, island rocks, petrologic features, petrographic and lithological reference collections, building stones, and impactites. Important collections available for study but not yet catalogued include but are not limited to the research collections of Joe Boyd, Erik Hauri and Stephen Haggerty. 

Most of the rocks and ores are part of the Locality Collection. This collection is organized into small suites of rocks from the same locality, such as a particular quadrangle or geological setting. These are typically petrogenetically related and usually described in at least one reference. The Volcanological Reference Collection includes specimens from approximately 300 different volcanoes or volcanic fields. Many are from dated eruptions. This collection, organized by eruption year, includes a large suite from the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory of eruptive material from Kilauea and Mauna Loa volcanoes. The collection also includes drill cores from the Kilauea Iki and Makaopuhi lava lakes. The Ore Collection is a systematic collection of metallic ores and mineral commodities. The collection includes metal-bearing minerals and massive ore-bearing material (primarily from major U.S. mines opened prior to 1930), as well as some non-metallic minerals and commodities such as pigments, abrasives, salts, clays, and hydrocarbons. The Sea Floor Rock Collection includes dredged and cored specimens from mid-ocean ridges, seamounts, and fracture zones, as well as a large manganese nodule collection. The Impactite Collection includes shocked rocks from impact structures around the world. Often the corresponding meteoritic material is also represented in the National Meteorite Collection. The Building Stones Collection features rocks utilized for building and ornamentation, and is composed primarily of material received from the Centennial Exposition at Philadelphia in 1876 and from the Tenth Census at the close of an investigation into the quarrying industries of the U.S. in 1880. Most specimens are from domestic quarries, with some foreign varieties represented. Contacts: Leslie Hale, Elizabeth Cottrell, Michael Ackerson

National Meteorite Collection

The National Meteorite Collection houses meteorites ranging from the building blocks of the early Solar System to volcanological processes on Mars in the relatively recent geologic past. Meteorites were first collected by Smithson, and the current collection dates to the earliest days of the Institution. The collection is currently represented by more than 62,500 specimen lot catalog records. While representing the full range of chondritic and achondritic meteorites, the collection is particularly strong in irons. Regular additions to the collection come from both endowment-enabled purchases and, importantly, the US Antarctic Meteorite Program (discussed below). Researchers working on the collection range in interests from the timing of processes in the solar nebula through the accretion, aqueous alteration and impact history of chondritic asteroids to the differentiation of both asteroidal and planetary bodies. While petrography is a central aspect of that research, scientists in the Div. of Meteorites utilize complementary isotopic data and involvement in spacecraft missions. Contact: Tim McCoy, Cari Corrigan, Julie Hoskin


The Department of Mineral Sciences is well equipped for the study of rocks and minerals. Instrumentation includes a state of the art electron microprobe and analytical scanning electron microscope, and X-ray diffraction facilities. Also available are an infrared microscope/spectrometer, Raman microscope/spectrometer, CCD imaging and spectroscopy with a cathodoluminescence microscope, and numerous optical microscopes. A well-equipped shop for preparation of thin and polished sections provides supporting services to the scientific staff. The facilities include a room-size rock saw to section exceptionally large rocks as well as meteorites. At the Museum Support Center in Suitland, Maryland, the Department maintains a clean room modeled on the facility used for Moon rocks at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.


Geologists from the Department conduct fieldwork in person at sites around the world and, using robotic spacecraft, across the Solar System. Research areas have included: the California Coastal range to understand island arc accretion onto continents; the Aleutian Islands to understand the formation of silicic magmas in oceanic terranes; volcanic eruptions in Central America to understand plume dynamics during Plinian eruptions; study of volcanic deposits in Hawaii to decipher explosive volcanism in an otherwise quiescent volcano; study of cave deposits to understand the magnetic history of the Earth during their formation; fresh and salt water environments to understand biomineralization; and study of small bodies in the Solar System to understand their origin and evolution.


The Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network is published monthly by the Department’s Global Volcanism Program. The departmental newsletter, NMNH Geoscience, is published quarterly and is accessible on the web.


The Mineral Sciences library contains about 15,000 volumes and 100 journal titles and focuses on mineralogy, gemology, volcanology, meteorites, petrology, and geochemistry.

Programs and Partnerships

Global Volcanism Program

The Global Volcanism Program (GVP) is the hub of an international network for monitoring, reporting, and maintaining data related to volcanic activity around the world. The GVP plays a leadership role in global volcano information—tracking events as they happen, building the database of critical information, and using these resources both for NMNH research projects and for answering questions about volcanology from other scientists, the media, and the public. The large and growing database contains information for more than 1,500 active volcanoes from around the world and more than 10,000 of their known eruptions in the last 10,000 years. Most of these data are now available on our website, along with our systematic monthly and weekly volcanic activity reports, the latter in collaboration with the USGS Volcano Hazards Program. The GVP also maintains extensive collections of maps, images, and other resources for Earth’s active volcanoes. The GVP collaborates with non-Smithsonian scientists and organizations concerned with volcano hazards, airline safety, geothermal energy, and global climate change, including the USGS, the Department of Energy, the National Aeronautical and Space Administration (NASA), National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Federal Aviation Administration. Contact: Ben Andrews AndrewsB@si.eduEd Venzke

Antarctic Meteorite Program

The Antarctic Meteorite Program was established in 1976. Cooperatively administered by the Smithsonian Institution, the National Science Foundation, and NASA, the focus of the Program is the collection, curation, and long-term storage of meteorites recovered from the Antarctic ice sheets. Curators in the Department of Mineral Sciences classify each of the meteorites returned and publish these results in the Antarctic Meteorite Newsletter, issued twice a year by NASA’s Johnson Space Center. The Smithsonian also curates Antarctic meteorites, where the entire collection will eventually reside. Of the 17,000 distinct meteorites in the National Meteorite Collection, more than 15,000 come from Antarctica. Contact: Catherine Corrigan CorriganC@si.eduTim

Research Staff

Ackerson, Michael, Geologist.  M.S. (2011) University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Ph.D. (2015) Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Research specialties: evolution of continental crust (spatially and temporally) through natural and experimental observations; to date, my primary geochemical tools have been trace and minor elements in minerals and melts. Contact:

Andrews, Benjamin, Geologist, Director of Global Volcanism Program, and Associate Curator of Rocks and Ores. B.A. (2002) University of Oregon; M.S. (2004) University of Alaska; Ph.D. (2009) University of Texas, Austin. Research specialties: Volcanic processes and hazards ranging from magmatic storage and recharge conditions, through eruption, to deposition; rates of mass, momentum, and energy transfer in different volcanic and geologic processes; analog modeling, optical flow velocimetry, turbulence analysis, sample grain size and component analysis, experimental petrology, electron microscopy, and crystal isotope stratigraphy. Contact:

Corrigan, Catherine, Geologist. B.S. (1995) Michigan State University; M.S. (1998) Michigan State University; Ph.D. (2004) Case Western Reserve University. Research specialties: Meteorites. Contact:

Cottrell, Elizabeth, Chair of Mineral Sciences and Curator of Antarctic Meteorites, Research Geologist;   Curator of Rocks. B.S. (1997) Brown University, Ph.D. (2004) Columbia University. Research specialties: experimental geochemistry and petrology, volcanology.  Contact:

Farfan, Gabriela, Coralyn W. Whitney Endowed Curator of Gems and Minerals.  B.S. (2013) Stanford University, Ph.D. (2018) MIT – Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.  Research specialties: Understanding how mineral structures interact with life and the environment, especially pertaining to organisms biomineralizing their skeletons under shifting environmental conditions.  Contact:

Lascu, Loan,  Geologist and Curator of Minerals and Gems. B.S. (2003) Babes-Bolyai University; M.S. (2005) Mississippi State University; Ph.D. (2011) University of Minnesota.  Research specialties:  Iron biomineralization by bacteria using magnetic methods, imaging, and modeling. Contact:

Macpherson, Glenn J., Senior Scientist and Curator of Meteorites. B.S. (1972) University of California, Santa Cruz; Ph.D. (1981) Princeton University. Research specialties: Origin of the solar system using geochemical studies of meteorites and comets; origin of the continental margin of North America using geochemical studies of ancient volcanic rocks. Contact:

McCoy, Timothy J., Geologist, and Curator of Meteorites. B.S. (1986) Eastern Illinois University; M.S. (1990) University of New Mexico; Ph.D. (1994) University of Hawaii, Manoa. Research specialties: Meteorites; igneous evolution of small bodies in the early solar system; Martian volcanological history derived from meteorites. Contact:


Post, Jeffrey E., Research Associate. B.S. (1976) University of Wisconsin, Platteville; Ph.D. (1981) Arizona State University. Research specialties: Environmental mineralogy; single crystal and powder X-ray diffraction; electron microscopy; manganese oxide minerals; clay minerals; computer modeling of mineral structures, Rietveld analysis; gemology. Contact:

Department of Paleobiology

The mission of the Department of Paleobiology is the discovery, description, and interpretation of the past history of life on Earth and its context within the surrounding environment. Research efforts of the Department are driven by important evolutionary and ecological questions that require the charting of the patterns and processes of past life. These endeavors are accomplished by active field work, examination of collections, archiving of resulting data, publication of research results, and sponsoring a variety of education and outreach activities.


The Department of Paleobiology is a center for interdisciplinary research on the history of life on Earth through time. Research programs in paleontology encompass the systematics of specific fossil animal and plant groups and their associations, the evolutionary processes underlying phylogenetic patterns, paleoecology, the responses of ecosystems to abiotic and biotic changes, and the relationships of ecological patterns to evolving lineages. Studies of environmental history have emphasized the responses of shallow-water depositional systems to changing climates and rates of subsidence, reef dynamics, and the history of ocean basins.


The Department of Paleobiology has responsibility for the day-to-day curation of the National Collection of Fossils and Sediments. Some of the specimens were collected before the Powell and Hayden Surveys of the late 1800s.

The Collection counts more than 42 million fossils including over 290,000 type specimens, and 50,000 sediment samples with representative material collected within and outside the United States and spans geological time from the Precambrian to the recent. To facilitate access, accountability, and curation, the Collection is divided into four sub-collections: invertebrates, vertebrates, plant fossils, and sediment samples. Published specimens are grouped by geologic age and taxon (e.g., Mesozoic Gastropoda Type, Paleozoic Anthozoa Type). Identified but unpublished specimens are stored either as a unit (e.g., Brachiopoda Biological Collection) or by geologic age and taxon (e.g., Mesozoic Gastropoda Biologic). Stratigraphic collections are organized by geological age then locality. Although they contain a variety of taxa, some unique collections (e.g., Burgess Shale Types, Burgess Shale Biologics) are kept together as sub-collections. The new National Taphonomy Reference Collection includes examples of post-mortem modification processes affecting bones (modern and fossil) as an aid to interpreting preservation history and paleoecology. The collections also include outstanding archival documentation relating to collections and specimens such as illustrations, paintings, field notebooks, annotated maps, correspondence, photographs, specimen ledgers, and card files. Each year, thousands of specimens are loaned to students and researchers around the world for scientific investigation as well as for exhibit. Specimens are added through staff collecting, donations from private individuals and educational/public institutions, and transfers from other government agencies.

Invertebrate Paleontology

The collections include outstanding invertebrate paleontology collections, one of the largest collections of such fossils in the world. Notable collections include the Trilobite Type Collection; Hazen Trilobite Collection; Cenozoic Marine Mollusk Type Collection; Burgess Shale Collection; Dominican Amber Collection; and Kohls Green River Collection of fossil insects. Fossil echinoderms are housed within the Springer. They currently total over 175,000 specimens and representing one of the largest collections of such fossils in the world. The Echinodermata includes the Springer Collection, donated by Frank Springer in 1911, which is the largest repository of fossil crinoids in the world consisting of nearly 4,500 primary types, including 1,678 holotypes, mostly from Paleozoic strata in North America and Europe as well as more than 100,000 secondary types derived from all parts of the world; the Glass Mountain Collection (Brachiopoda); and the Kohls Green River Insect Collection. The Foraminifera Collection, which is among the largest repository in the world of foraminiferan type specimens, includes over 16,000 primary types (holotypes and paratypes) and over 200,000 secondary types representing about 75% of all the type specimens of the American smaller foraminiferans and 90% of the larger American Mesozoic and Cenozoic foraminiferans. It also includes the Cushman Collection of Foraminifera of approximately 150,000 mounted slides, 25,000 type slides and figured specimens; Solnhofen Collection; and the Micropaleontological Reference Center Collection housing more than 10,000 microfossil samples of foraminifera in specimen containers, as well as calcareous nannofossils, radiolarians and diatoms on slides. The department also maintains collections of plant–insect interactions ranging from the Early Carboniferous to the middle Eocene.  Contact: Mark Florence

Vertebrate Paleontology

Outstanding collections include the Marsh Dinosaur Collection; Fossil Marine Mammal Collection; Hagerman Horse Collection; Rose-Bown Collection of Paleogene Mammals; and Teleoceras Collection. Vertebrate collections of fishes and fish-like vertebrates, amphibians, reptiles, and non-mammalian synapsids are arranged taxonomically; mammals are organized first by stage and then taxonomy. The first significant dinosaur fossils added to the museum’s collections were the type specimen of the sauropod Dystrophaeus viaemalae, collected by J. S. Newberry and donated in 1859, and Lower Jurassic dinosaur footprints from the Connecticut Valley, donated in 1861. The collections currently include over 1,500 catalogued specimens of dinosaurs. The Marsh Collection, the largest single dinosaur collection at the Smithsonian, includes some of the most important dinosaurs known to science including skeletons of Allosaurus, Stegosaurus, and Triceratops. Contacts: Amanda Millhouse, David Bohaska


The paleobotany collections are worldwide with special emphasis on specimens from the Devonian, Permian, Pennsylvanian, Cretaceous, Paleocene, and Eocene of North America. The collections contain more than a million specimens (macro and micro), including:

  • the Type Collection, consisting of approximately 24,000 specimens described in publications from 1839 to the present, the largest of its kind in the world;
  • more than 1,500 cases of stratigraphically arranged collections formerly belonging to the US Geological Survey, largely documenting fossil floras of North America, but also with significant holding from Central and South America;
  • a collection of 3,633 specimens, including 237 figured and type specimens, about 1,800 Paleozoic plants and 1,596 Mesozoic and Tertiary plants formerly held by the American Museum of Natural History,
  • the historic R. D. Lacoe Collection of about 10,000 specimens, mostly from the upper Paleozoic of eastern North America;
  • The USGS Denver Palynology Collection, estimated at more than 20,000 slides containing fossil palynomorphs of all ages, mostly from North America.
  • the National Collections of cleared and stained leaves of living plants, totaling ~28,000 slides;
  • The J. A. Wolfe herbarium voucher collections documenting leaf size and shape variation in present-day North America.

Contact: Jon Wingerath


The Sediment Collection includes a reference collection of over 50,000 sediment samples as well as representative material collected during historic cruises such as the Albatross and Coastal Survey Studies conducted in the late 1800s. In addition, cores collected from coral reefs to study their Holocene history include cores from Galeta Reef, Panama, Nonsuch Bay, Antigua, Stocking Island, Bahamas, and Holandes Cay, Panama. Also included are surface samples from Cobbler’s reef, Barbados, and stromatolite samples from both northern Belize and Shark Bay, Australia. Contact: Jon Wingerath

Research Staff

Behrensmeyer, Anna K., Senior Research Geologist and Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology. B.A. (1967) Washington University; M.A. (1968), Ph.D. (1973) Harvard University. Research specialties: Paleoecology of terrestrial environments, especially in the later Cenozoic of Africa and Pakistan, continental sedimentation, investigation of taphonomic processes affecting the fossil record, human paleoecology, evolution of terrestrial ecosystems. Contact:

Carrano, Mathew T., Research Geologist and Curator of Dinosauria. B.S. (1991) Brown University; M.S. (1995), Ph.D. (1998) University of Chicago. Research specialties: Large-scale evolutionary patterns within Dinosauria; systematics of basal Theropoda; vertebrate paleoecology of Mesozoic terrestrial ecosystems; the dinosaur fossil record. Contact:

DiMichele, William A., Research Geologist and Curator of Paleobotany. B.A. (1974) Drexel University; M.S. (1976), Ph.D. (1979) University of Illinois. Research specialties: Paleoecology, morphology, and systematics of late Paleozoic plants, particularly the structure of late Paleozoic ecosystems and the relationship between long-term ecological and evolutionary patterns. Contact:

Edie, Stewart, Research Geologist and Curator of Invertebrate Paleontology. B.S. (2011) University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Ph.D. (2018) University of Chicago. Research specialties: bivalve mollusks; exploring the determinants of diversity in its many forms, and the evolution of such patterns in deep time; machine learning and Bayesian modeling.

Erwin, Douglas, Senior Research Biologist and Curator of Paleozoic Invertebrates. A.B. (1980) Colgate University; Ph.D. (1985) University of California, Santa Barbara. Research specialties: Macroevolution and evolutionary innovations, particularly the Cambrian metazoan radiation and post-extinction biotic recoveries; the Permian mass extinction; evolutionary history and systematics of Cambrian-Triassic gastropods. Contact:

Huber, Brian T., Research Geologist, Curator of Foraminifera. B.S. (1981) University of Akron; M.S. (1984), Ph.D. (1988) Ohio State University. Research specialties: Cretaceous climate and oceanography; biostratigraphy and paleobiogeography of Cretaceous and Paleogene foraminifera; evolution and extinction dynamics of Cretaceous and Paleogene planktonic foraminifera; Cretaceous strontium and light stable isotope stratigraphy. Contact:

Hunt, Eugene (Gene), Chair of Paleobiology, Research Geologist and Curator of Ostracoda. B.S. (1995) Duke University; M.S. (1999), Ph.D. (2003) University of Chicago. Research specialties: Deep-sea Ostracoda; macroevolution; quantitative approaches in paleontology. Contact:

Labandeira, Conrad, Senior Research Geologist and Curator of Fossil Arthropods. B.A. (1980) California State University, Fresno; M.S. (1986) University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee; Ph.D. (1990) University of Chicago. Research specialties: Interactions between plants and insects in the fossil record; terrestrial fossil arthropods, particularly insects; evolution of insect mouthparts; fossil insect diversity; the evolutionary development of insects. Contact:

Pyenson, Nicholas, Research Geologist and Curator of Fossil Marine Mammals. B.S. (2002) Emory University; Ph.D. (2008) University of California, Berkeley. Research specialties: Marine mammals; marine tetrapods. Contact:

Sues, Hans-Dieter, Senior Research Geologist and Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology. Cand. geol. (1975), Johannes Gutenberg-Universität; M.S. (1977), University of Alberta; M.A. (1978), Ph.D. (1984), Harvard University. Research specialties: Phylogeny and evolutionary morphology of late Paleozoic and Mesozoic non-mammalian synapsids and reptiles (especially non-avian archosaurs); patterns and causes of late Paleozoic and early Mesozoic biotic changes. Contact:

Wing, Scott L., Research Geologist and Curator of Paleobotany. B.A. (1976), Ph.D. (1981) Yale University. Research specialties: Paleoecology; Cenozoic and Mesozoic paleoclimate; angiosperm history and systematics; fossil plants of the Rocky Mountain region; plant taphonomy. Contact:


Affiliated Research Staff

Buzas, Martin A., Curator of Foraminifera Emeritus. B.A. (1958) University of Connecticut; M.S. (1960) Brown University; Ph.D. (1963) Yale University. Research specialties: Foraminifera; quantitative ecology-paleoecology; biogeography; evolution. Contact:

Emry, Robert J., Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology Emeritus. B.A. (1966) Colorado State University; Ph. D. (1970) Columbia University. Research specialties: Tertiary Mammalia of North America and Central Asia; mammalian evolution and dispersal; biostratigraphy; stratigraphy of Tertiary continental deposits of western North America. Contact:

French, Bevan M., Research Associate. A.B. (1958) Dartmouth College; M.S. (1960) California Institute of Technology; Ph.D. (1964) Johns Hopkins University. Research specialties: Geology of terrestrial meteorite craters: formation, identification, and geological and biological effects; identification of unique impact-produced shock-wave effects in minerals and rocks; impact debris in the terrestrial sedimentary record and at major extinction boundaries. Contact:

Greenwalt, Dale, Research Associate. B.A. (1971) University of Minnesota; M.A. (1976) Bemidji State University; Ph.D. (1981) Iowa State University. Research specialties: Paleogene insect faunas of North America, particularly those of the Kishenehn and Green River Formations; organic geochemistry. Contact:

Johnson, Kirk R., Sant Director. A.B. (1982) Amherst College; M.S. (1985) University of Pennsylvania; Ph.D. (1989) Yale University. Research specialties: Cretaceous-Paleogene; paleobotany, stratigraphy, geochemistry. Contact:

Tyler, James C., Senior Scientist Emeritus. B.A. (1957) George Washington University; Ph.D. (1962) Stanford University. Research specialties: Systematic ichthyology, especially Tetraodontiformes; community ecology of coral reef fishes. Contact:

Waller, Thomas R., Curator Emeritus. B.A. (1959), M.S. (1961) University of Wisconsin; Ph.D. (1966) Columbia University. Research specialties: Marine Bivalvia, particularly evolution throughout the Phanerozoic, morphology, shell ultrastructure, larval development, biogeography, and biostratigraphy; monographic studies of living bivalves and their Mesozoic and Cenozoic fossil record. Contact:

Department of Vertebrate Zoology

The mission of the Department of Vertebrate Zoology is to discover, describe and classify the world’s species of vertebrates and interpret the evolutionary history of this high-profile diversity to meet the needs of science and society.


Research in the Department of Vertebrate Zoology is organized into four divisions: Amphibians and Reptiles, Birds, Fishes, and Mammals. Research studies extend across the spectrum of systematics, morphology, molecular biology, biogeography, life history, behavior, and ecology of fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals with strengths in phylogeny and revisionary studies within these groups. Geographical areas of particular research interest include North, Central and South America; western Atlantic and Caribbean region; Africa; and the Indo-Pacific region and adjoining areas in southern Asia.


Worldwide collections of preserved specimens and extensive osteological collections are the basis for monographic studies of vertebrate species and their higher taxa, and for related studies focused on the evolution and ecology of vertebrates. The vertebrate collections trace their origin to the two boxcars of specimens that Spencer Fullerton Baird, one of the first Secretaries of the Smithsonian, brought with him in 1850. Since that time, the Department of Vertebrate Zoology has grown with responsibility to maintain the foremost international collections of vertebrate animals, comprising the world’s largest collections of fishes (approximately 6 million specimens), mammals (590,000 specimens), and amphibians and reptiles (587,000 specimens), plus the world’s third largest collection of birds (600,000 specimens). The research value of each Division’s holdings is amplified by many historically important series including 15,803 primary type specimens. Accordingly, the department is recognized internationally for the systematic and geographic comprehensiveness of its collections and for its influential, high profile research programs in systematic biology and associated fields.

Division of Amphibians and Reptiles

Research in the Division covers a wide spectrum of biological topics and geographic areas. Most research is collections based and emphasizes the evolution, biogeography and systematics of selected groups of frogs, lizards, snakes and turtles from North America, tropical America, Africa, Oceania and adjacent western Pacific Rim countries. Staff scientists in the Division use a variety of approaches, including general morphology, morphometry, and molecular techniques. Biodiversity surveys and monitoring population and community structure are regular features of the staff’s fieldwork.

The Amphibian and Reptile Collection is the largest and among the most important in the world, numbering over 587,000 specimens organized alphabetically by taxonomy, and then numerically within a species. Each year about 2,000 new specimens are added to the collection and about 1,200 specimens are sent on loan to other researchers. The oldest documented specimen dates back to 1817. The collection is composed of over 159,000 frogs, 232,000 salamanders, 380 caecilians, 800 crocodilians, 16 tuatara, 119,000 lizards, 55,000 snakes, and 19,300 turtles. Of these, approximately 14,000 are type specimens, with highest representation of North and Latin American taxa. The majority of specimen records, 562,000, in the Amphibian and Reptile collection are stored in 70% ethanol. The Division also maintains 13,400 dry collections, mostly skeletal material but also including flat skins and stuffed specimens. The glycerin-stored cleared and stained collection counts about 4,500 specimens and mainly includes preparations of small specimens that would be damaged or deformed during the process of making traditional skeletal preparations. The Division has 245,000 formalin-stored specimens (8,325 catalog records), primarily consisting of amphibian larvae, particularly tadpoles. The histological slide collection of ca. 100,000 slides (about 1,600 catalog records) features slides from Ernest Wever’s research on amphibian and reptile ears but also includes important representative slides from aging, reproductive, and amphibian disease studies. The Division has a sound archive that includes both the original and archival copies of audiotapes, primarily of frog vocalizations, as vouchers of published works and species reference. The tapes have been digitized. Images, including print and digital photographs as well as radiographs are also included in the Division’s collections. Tissue samples are routinely collected and a sizable number representing a variety of taxa are available for research and study. Contact: Esther M. Langan, Addison Wynn

Division of Birds

Research in the Division of Birds is oriented toward the evolution, biogeography, and systematics of birds. Particular interests include functional anatomy, structural adaptation, phylogeny, distribution and systematics of Neotropical birds, conservation biology of North American migrants, forensic ornithology, and paleontology and evolution of birds and of island avifaunas. Recent field sites include southeastern United States, Texas, California, Jamaica, Guyana, Peru, Paraguay, Uruguay, Korea, Burma and Gabon. In cooperation with the U.S. Armed Forces and Federal Aviation Administration, specialized research is currently underway in microscopic feather identification applying forensic methodologies to determine species of birds from fragmentary evidence, especially in relation to bird strikes on aircraft.

The Division of Birds maintains the third largest bird collection in the world, with approximately 600,000 specimens including many historical specimens, such as a Charles Darwin specimen that may be the only one in a North American museum—one of the few existing specimens to bear Darwin’s original field label. There are also specimens collected by Alfred Russel Wallace, William Henry Hudson, and other notables. The National Collection, known in the ornithological literature by the acronym USNM (referring to the old name of United States National Museum), has representatives of about 80% of the approximately 10,500 known species in the world’s avifauna. The first group of specimens originated from the private collection of Spencer Fullerton Baird, who collected in the Carlisle, Pennsylvania region in the early 1840s. Baird’s collection also contained material from leading American naturalists of the early 1800s, such as J. J. Audubon and J. K. Townsend. The bird collection served as the repository for many of the specimens from the U. S. Exploring Expedition and of the surveys in the 1800s to explore the western territories, railroad and telephone routes as well as international boundary surveys. Theodore Roosevelt collected birds as a young boy and also as a member of the Smithsonian African Expedition; his specimens are part of the USNM collection. A major portion of the bird collection came from the activities of the U.S. Biological Survey, which actively collected over much of North America from the 1890s to 1930s. The oldest known specimen in the Division was collected in Brazil in 1818. While the majority of the specimens in the Bird Division consist of study skins (about 500,000), skeletal (60,000) and anatomical (ethanol-stored: 30,000) specimens are also maintained, and these represent the largest and most diverse of these types of collections in the world. The skeletal collection includes representatives of over 5,100 different taxa. The fluid-stored collection has representatives of almost 4,200 different taxa as well as specialized subsets including a collection of fluid-preserved stomach contents, brains, syringes, and a small cleared and stained collection. Additional collections include egg sets (33,012), nests (4,900), and mounted skins (ca. 2,200). The collection also includes approximately 40,000 frozen tissue samples. About 1,100 specimens are added to the collections each year and 50-60 loans of specimens sent to qualified researchers, students and exhibitions. Tissues frozen in liquid nitrogen have also been preserved and are stored at the Laboratories of Analytical Biology. The bird collection includes 3,968 primary type specimens. Information and specimen data for the type specimens is available through an electronic database—the USNM Birds Type Catalog. Approximately 90% of the main collection is computerized in an internal specimen data base. The geographic coverage of the bird collection is worldwide including major holdings from North America, Central America, the West Indies, northern South America, eastern Africa, and Southeast Asia. Regions that are insufficiently represented include southern South America, western Africa, Europe, northern Asia, New Zealand and Australia, and New Guinea. Contact: Chris Milensky

Division of Fishes

Research in the Division of Fishes is directed primarily toward systematic revisions of species, genera, and families, and the interpretation of higher classification and biogeography. Staff research efforts are currently focused on the Caribbean and Indo-Pacific marine shore fishes, especially blennies and gobies; beloniform, scombroid, pleuronectiform fishes world-wide; larval fish studies, ontogeny and reproductive morphology; and Southeast Asia, South American and African freshwater fishes. Osteological, myological and other studies are being conducted as a basis for understanding the phylogeny and higher classification among a broad range of taxa.

The Division of Fishes maintains the largest collection of fishes in the world with over 975,000 lots totaling over 6 million individual specimens. The collection is arranged phylogenetically by family and then alphabetically by genus and species within each family. Over 35% of the collection has been computer catalogued and is accessible through an online searchable database. Specimens include adult fish as well as egg, larval and juvenile stages. For some taxa, especially those who progress through varied morphologies, preserved representatives of the complete series of life stages are available. The majority of specimens are stored in ethanol but the collection also includes dry skeletons (5,064) and specially prepared (cleared and stained) articulated skeletons (5,330) stored in glycerin as well as histology slides and otoliths. The collections include many rare and important fish species, including a Coelacanth, Latimeria chalumnae. About 25,000 or 75% of the over 33,000 known fish species are represented in the collection, including 19,000 lots (about 94,500 specimens) of type specimens representing 8,890 nominal species, including 6,375 primary types, making this the largest such collection in the world. The fish collections include specimens from many historical expeditions including marine fishes from the Wilkes Expedition (1838) and U.S. Bureau of Fisheries trawling expeditions conducted by the Blake, Albatross, Fish Hawk and other ships in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Smithsonian Biological Survey of the Canal Zone, as well as North American freshwater fishes collected during the Mississippi-Pacific Railroad and Mexican Boundary Surveys in the 1850s and by David Starr Jordan and his students and colleagues (1860-1920). The collection has the world’s largest holdings of Indo-Pacific marine shore fishes and extensive coverage of Caribbean marine fishes as well as both North and South American freshwater fishes. The Division of Fishes continues to build a genetic resources collection and houses over 40,000 genetic samples representing over 4,000 species. In addition to the specimens, the collection includes illustrations and photographs (25,000 units) as well as radiographs (25,000) of fishes. Contact: Diane Pitassy

Division of Mammals

Research in the Division of Mammals is primarily concerned with systematic revisions, distribution and ecology, natural history, and functional anatomy. Staff research interests are concentrated on the mammals of Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Western Hemisphere. Studies of the systematics and ecology of marine mammals, especially whales and porpoises, rodents, bats, and primates are being actively pursued.

With roughly 590,000 voucher specimens, the Division of Mammals maintains, by far, the world’s largest—nearly twice the size of the next largest—and one of the most important collections of mammals. The standard preparation is the skin and skull of which there are over 359,000 specimens. Other major holdings include 33,000 skeletons, 104,000 fluid-stored specimens, and 3,000 tanned skins. The collection includes 3,209 primary type specimens and many historically important specimens. The collections include several special subsets, among these are mammalian brains (857 specimens), male genitalia (1,700 specimens), fluid-preserved hearts (373), cleared-and-stained specimens (400) as well as karyotype slides (2,000), hair slides and bacula. Frozen tissue samples of vouchered specimens number about 423,000 with an additional 2,000 samples without vouchers.

The oldest specimens originated from the activities of the U.S. Exploring Expedition, dating from 1838-1842, and the personal collection of Spencer Fullerton Baird. A significant portion of the collection’s North American specimens resulted from the Biological Survey program, initiated by C. Hart Merriam and conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in the 1890s-1930s. The Mammal collection includes specimens from William L. Abbott who made large collections of mammals from Central and Southeast Asia. The Smithsonian African Expedition acquired many specimens from east Africa (1909-1911), some of which were collected by former President Theodore Roosevelt, and during the 1960s, large field programs surveying mammals as disease vectors, such as the Smithsonian Venezuelan Project and the African Mammal Project, added more than 100,000 specimens to the collection. Each year 1,500 specimens are loaned to qualified researchers. Data for over 575,000 specimens are electronically available through a searchable database. The taxonomic and geographic scope of the USNM mammal collection spans the globe, with especially strong representation from North America, Central America, northern South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. Contact: Darrin Lunde


Specialized facilities including radiographic and light photography systems (both digital and film in each case), dark-room, digital imaging and histological facilities, and sound analysis equipment are available. These are supplemented by discipline specific libraries and archives of original illustrations, maps, and sound recordings.

Field Work

Staff in the Department of Vertebrate Zoology conduct field research on all continents with particular emphasis throughout the Americas, portions of Africa and Southeast Asia and adjoining regions and across many portions of the World Ocean. In recent years traditional forms of specimen preparation have been supplemented by photographic documentation of life coloration, more encompassing anatomical preparations, and preservation of materials for molecular studies.

Education and Outreach

Graduate Programs are available in conjunction with University of Maryland and George Washington University including formal affiliations through the Robert Weintraub Program in Systematics and Evolution. Through this program GWU faculty and graduate students work on a variety of organisms including bacteria, protists, angiosperms, cnidarians, mollusks, polychaete worms, arthropods, echinoderms, dinosaurs, fish, mammals and lizards.


The library holdings in Vertebrate Zoology are divided among divisional libraries with references focusing on systematics, taxonomy, anatomy and physiology, ecology and distribution, and evolution of their respective subject groups. The Birds collection has over 10,000 volumes, including approximately 100 journal subscriptions. The Fishes library has over 8,000 volumes, including 106 journal subscriptions on fish biology, and over 120,000 reprints of scientific literature on fish taxonomy and systematics. The Mammals collection contains about 4,500 volumes, including 40 journal subscriptions. The Amphibian and Reptile Library has approximately 3,500 volumes, maintains 35 journal subscriptions, and includes over 70,000 herpetological reprints making it the largest such collection in the world.

Programs and Partnerships

Marine Mammal Program
Established in 1972, the Marine Mammal Program, which focuses on whales, dolphins, porpoises, sea cows, seals, and sea lions, is a cooperative research program whose principal goal is to extract all biological data possible from stranded and incidentally taken animals. Through a thorough examination of stranded and incidentally taken animals, valuable data are gained on many aspects of the normal life history of cetaceans. Scientists routinely collect data and specimens that relate to stomach contents, relative organ weights, parasite burden, reproductive condition and stage of physical maturity. Staff members also take external morphometrics and photographs of the external pigmentation pattern. The collection of marine mammals is the largest in the world, consisting of more than 11,000 specimens of cetaceans, 3,300 specimens of pinnipeds and 394 specimens of sirenians. Most of these are represented by osteological material although the collection also includes fluid and frozen specimens. Contact: Michael McGowen


Research Staff

Baldwin, Carole C., Chair of Vertebrate Zoology, Research Zoologist and Curator of New World Shorefishes. B.S. (1981) James Madison University; M.S. (1986) College of Charleston; Ph.D. (1992) College of William and Mary. Research specialties: Diversity and evolution of tropical marine and deep-reef fishes; marine teleost larvae; public communication of marine science. Contact:

Braun, Michael J., Research Zoologist. B.A. (1977) Cornell University; Ph.D. (1983) Louisiana State University. Research specialties: Molecular phylogenetics, molecular evolutionary genetics, avian hybridization and speciation, biogeography of Neotropical birds, conservation genetics. Contact:

De Queiroz, Kevin, Research Zoologist and Curator of Amphibians and Reptiles. B.S. (1978) University of California, Los Angeles; M.S. (1985) San Diego State University; Ph.D. (1989) University of California, Berkeley. Research specialties: Systematics and evolutionary biology of amphibians and reptiles; principles and methods of systematic biology. Contact:

Graves, Gary R., Research Zoologist and Curator of Birds. B.A. (1976) University of Arkansas, Little Rock; M.S. (1980) Louisiana State University; Ph.D. (1983) Florida State University. Research specialties: Evolution, biogeography, and ecology of birds and natural history of vertebrates. Contact:

Hawkins, Melissa, Research Zoologist.  B.S. (2007) Western Illinois University; M.S. (2009) Western Illinois University; Ph.D. (2015) George Mason University. Research specialties: Conservation geneticist with a focus on mammalian evolution and systematics. Contact:

James, Helen F., Research Zoologist and Curator of Birds. B.A. (1977) University of Arkansas; Ph.D. (2000) Oxford University. Research specialties: Systematics, evolutionary morphology, and fossil record of birds; island biogeography and paleoecology; ecological effects of humans in island and marine ecosystems. Contact:

Johnson, G. David, Research Zoologist and Curator of Marine Larval Fishes. B.S. (1967) University of Texas, Austin; Ph.D. (1977) Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Research specialties: Systematics, comparative anatomy, ontogeny, phylogeny, and early life history of fishes, particularly acanthomorphs. Contact:

McGowen, Michael R., Research Scientist and Curator of Marine Mammals. B.A. (1999) University of California, Berkeley; M.S. (2005) San Diego State University; Ph.D. (2010) University of California, Riverside. Research specialties: molecular phylogenetics; morphology and genomics of marine mammals; the evolution of the cetacean brain. Contact:

Parenti, Lynne R., Research Scientist and Curator of Indo-Pacific Freshwater and Coastal Fishes. B.A. (1975) State University of New York, Stony Brook; Ph.D. (1980) City University of New York. Research specialties: Phylogenetic systematics and biogeography of tropical freshwater and coastal marine fishes, especially atherinomorphs and gobioids; comparative biogeography theory and methods; development of new tools for the collection and preservation of natural history specimens. Contact:

Affiliated Research Staff

Bemis, Katherine, Systematics Laboratory, National Marine Fisheries Service, Department of Commerce. B.S. (2015), Cornell University; Ph.D. (2019) College of William and Mary. Research specialties: Systematics, biology, and morphology of marine fishes, in particular Tetraodontiformes. Contact:

Chesser, Terry, Research Associate. B.S. (1956), Ph.D. (1960) Cornell University. Research specialties: Systematics, evolution, zoogeography, anatomy, and biology of marine fishes, especially Scombroidei (mackerels and tunas), Xiphioidei (bill-fishes), Beloniformes (needlefishes and halfbeaks), and Batrachoididae (toadfishes). Contact:

Collette, Bruce B., Research Associate. B.S. (1956), Ph.D. (1960) Cornell University. Research specialties: Systematics, evolution, zoogeography, anatomy, and biology of marine fishes, especially Scombroidei (mackerels and tunas), Xiphioidei (bill-fishes), Beloniformes (needlefishes and halfbeaks), and Batrachoididae (toadfishes). Contact:

Dove, Carla, Research Scientist. B.S. (1986) University of Montana; M.S. (1994), Ph.D. (1998) George Mason University. Research specialties: Forensic ornithology; researches microscopic variation in downy feather structures and identifies unknown feather samples retrieved from aircraft engines, wildlife cases, prey remains, and anthropological artifacts. Contact:

Emmons, Louise, Research Associate. B.A. (1965) Sarah Lawrence College; Ph.D. (1975) Cornell University. Research specialties: Tropical rainforest mammals, especially rodents; Neotropical forest and southern savanna mammals. Contact:

Foster, Mercedes S., Research Associate. B.A. (1963), M.A. (1965) University of California, Berkeley; Ph.D. (1974) University of South Florida. Research specialties: Evolution, ecology, and behavior of birds; tropical ecology; biodiversity methods; frugivorous birds, fruit nutrition, and seed dispersal. Contact:

Gardner, Alfred L., Research Associate. B.S. (1962), M.S. (1965) University of Arizona, Tucson; Ph.D. (1970) Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge. Research specialties: Systematics and nomenclature of mammals of the Western Hemisphere. Contact:

McDiarmid, Roy W., Research Associate.  B.A. (1961), M.S. (1966), Ph.D. (1969) University of Southern California. Research specialties: Natural history and evolution of amphibians and reptiles, especially Neo-tropical forms; morphology and evolution of amphibian eggs and larvae (tadpoles); standard methods for inventory and monitoring species; world snake diversity; bibliographic history of herpetology. Contact:

Mead, James G., Curator of Mammals Emeritus. B.A. (1965) Yale College; M.A. (1972) University of Texas; Ph.D. (1972) University of Chicago. Research specialties: Evolution and interrelationship of cetaceans; functional anatomy, distribution, and biology of cetaceans in the western and northern Atlantic. Contact:

Munroe, Thomas, Systematics Laboratory, National Marine Fisheries Service, Department of Commerce. B.A. (1973), M.S. (1976) Southeastern Massachusetts University; Ph.D. (1987) College of William and Mary, Virginia Institute of Marine Science. Research specialties: Systematics, evolution, biogeography, and biology of marine fishes, especially Pleuronectiformes. Contact:

Wilson, Don E., Curator of Mammals Emeritus. B.S. (1965) University of Arizona; M.S. (1967), Ph.D. (1970) University of New Mexico. Research specialties: Evolutionary biology of mammals, especially bats; mammal species of the world. Contact:

Woodman, Neil., Research Associate (United States Geological Survey). B.A. (1980) Earlham College, Ph.D. (1992) University of Kansas. Research specialties: taxonomy, phylogenetic systematics, and biogeography of mammals with a focus on shrews and bats. Contact:

Zug, George R., Curator of Amphibians and Reptiles Emeritus. B.A. (1960) Albright College; M.S. (1963) University of Florida; Ph.D. (1968) University of Michigan. Research specialties: Evolution and systematics of amphibians and reptiles, with emphasis on South Pacific species; biology and systematics of turtles. Contact:


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