The Clemson University Arthropod Collection, a 90-year-old catalog of South Carolina’s biodiversity that holds approximately 1 million insect specimens, will be expanded and modernized thanks to a $505,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).
The collection serves as an historical record of changes to the state’s fauna and is used by researchers to track biological fluctuations and expand the science of medical and veterinary entomology. But obsolete specimen cabinets, cramped quarters and outdated technology are limiting the number of additional specimens that can be collected, said Clemson entomology professor Michael Caterino, who secured the NSF grant.
“A collection like this should be always growing so we have a continuous record through time of what the fauna is doing. As we lose the ability to integrate new specimens, we end up with a spotty and incomplete record of the many changes that are happening. This grant will let us expand our collection activities and more completely document what’s going on with the fauna today,” Caterino said.
Caterino directs the collection and was hired in January 2014 as the John C. and Suzanne E. Morse Chair in Arthropod Biodiversity.
The grant will be used to purchase modern specimen cabinets, hire staff, expand laboratory space, move and reorganize existing specimens and establish a more advanced specimen databasing system. The staff will collaborate with Clemson’s Light Imaging Facility to digitize more specimens so they can be shared with research partners throughout the world.
“These improvements will position the collection to take a more active role in biodiversity research in the Southeast and establish a complete infrastructure and workflow that we can build on for the future,” Caterino said.
The collection is an epicenter of Clemson’s teaching and outreach efforts in the entomological sciences. Caterino hopes the improved facility will attract additional research talent, student involvement and citizen science.
“We want to engage a broad community of students, enthusiasts and citizens in the region’s rich biodiversity and inspire conservation efforts,” Caterino said. “A lot of our undergraduate students are in general biology, thinking about future directions. I hope that by increasing opportunities to work in the collection, we can convince some to specialize in entomology. I know it made a big difference for me.”
The collection began in the 1890s not long after Clemson College was founded but was lost to a fire in Sikes Hall in 1925. Entomologist Franklin Sherman restarted the collection in 1926 in Long Hall where it currently resides.