I am pleased to announce that our proposal for a Collections in Support of Biological Research (CSBR) grant that we submitted for the Virginia Tech Insect Collection has been funded by the National Science Foundation! This award from the Division of Biolological Infrastructure (DBI) at NSF supports improvements to biological natural history or stock collections in the U.S.
The insect collection in the Department of Entomology at Virginia Tech is an exceptional repository of pollinators, endangered insects, and many native species, once common but now disappearing from habitat loss. Museum specimens provide a critical baseline for comprehending biological change through time, tracking the spread of insect disease vectors and agriculturally destructive invasive species that threaten our ecosystems, agriculture and public health. This collection is a frontier for the discovery and description of biodiversity, representing hundreds of undescribed new species. This award will provide support for personnel and new cabinets and drawers to improve conditions for specimens. Specimen data will be digitized and made accessible through online resources, improving access to “dark data” conserved alongside the physical specimens (more than 98 percent of the material is currently not digitized). Several scientifically valuable collections in the museum will be conserved, including specimens of Federally Endangered species, endemic Appalachian species, and critical pollinators.
Despite the continuous use and constant growth of this collection, the storage and curation methods are antiquated and it is currently located at a temporary storage facility. This project will provide critical support to the collection and will accomplish the relocation of the collection to campus, improve the physical storage infrastructure for specimens, and address digitization, cataloguing, and documentation of specimens. Over the duration of this project, undergraduate and graduate students along with a new full-time collections manager will be trained in collections research, including curatorial best practices, digitization, and networking biodiversity data. Public outreach events will target the underserved Appalachian population. Science curriculum kits will be developed for elementary students, and old insect cabinets and drawers will be upcycled as mini-natural history collections and donated to local nature centers. An insect collection exhibit will be developed for the University’s annual Bug Fest and Bug Camp for elementary school students. With a revitalized presence on campus and a greater capacity to engage the public with insects and science, the Virginia Tech Insect Collection represents a unique and powerful resource to translate the importance of biodiversity and science to the historically underserved Appalachian region. All data resulting from this project will be shared with iDigBio (http://www.idigbio.org/), ensuring accessibility to researchers and the public.
We would like to thank the National Science Foundation for awarding this generous grant to Virginia Tech, and for supporting natural history collections throughout the U.S. and their many essential research activities.