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Western Carolina University – NSF grant will help WCU preserve various biological collections

Hidden in a small room in the Stillwell Building of Western Carolina University
the university herbarium, consisting of approximately 36,500 plant specimens, mostly
from the South Appalachian Mountains .

Scattered in various other rooms at Stillwell are arthropods with nearly 10,000
specimens, including some rare and ancient spiders. And in Stillwell's rooms and
the Natural Sciences Building there are about 500 taxidermy specimens of birds and

Thanks to a $ 517,282 grant from the National Science Foundation and the current construction
of the Tom Apodaca Science Building, those collections will have a new home where
will be prominently displayed on the fifth floor of the new building in its
expected completion in 2021.

The three-year grant, titled "Developing the Catamount
Biological Collections to Enhance Research and Education on Biodiversity in Southern Appalachia," will allow
collections to be organized and curated, said Kathy Mathews, associate professor
of biology and director of the WCU herbarium. Mathews is the principal investigator
along with co-investigators Luiz Silveira, assistant professor of insect diversity,
ecology and evolution; Barbara Ballentine, associate professor of evolution and behavior
ecology; and Aimee Rockhill, assistant professor of natural resource conservation
and management.

Aimee Rockhill

“ Scientists interested in what makes the Southern Appalachian Mountains so

diverse can use our collection to study what species are here, what are their characteristics

they are, where they live and what makes them unique, ”said Mathews. "It is very important.

The Southern Appalachian region is one of the planet's biodiversity hotspots.

Our collections here at Western, believe it or not, some of them are unique. Some

of them are only found here, or we have the best representatives of certain organisms

that no other museum has because we are here, and we have had teachers at WCU

collecting things since the beginning of the 20th century. "

The first phase of the project will be to organize and label everything. Each of the

The samples will then be stored in new cabinets and storage systems. Currently, the

herbarium, consisting of samples of dry press plants, are in wooden cabinets that

they are not fire retardant, waterproof or resistant to mold, Mathews said.

Arthropods are found in drawers or cabinets without organization, and many of

specimens of birds and mammals are kept in freezers or plastic bags.

"Once we enter the new building, we are going to make a screen that we can rotate

different specimens and they have different information about them, ”Mathews said.

 Barbara Ballentine NSF Scholarship "width =" 600 "height =" 900 "/></p><p> Barbara Ballentine</p></p></div><p> The next phase will be the creation of a website that describes each specimen, that <br
be accessible to the public. "We call it the 'Catamount Collections'", Mathews <br
he said.</p><p> Outreach modules will also be developed to allow small teaching collections to be compiled. <br
taken to schools in the area to demonstrate biodiversity and show different types of plants <br
and animals in the collection.</p><p> To help with the project, four undergraduate students will be hired each year to help <br
with organizing and curating, Mathews said. In addition, two graduate students in biology <br
The master's program will be contracted for two years to assist with curation and supervision. <br
university students.</p><p> "We hope to train a cohort of students in this type of museum study work by <br
they could go to work for a natural history museum after graduation ”, Mathews <br
said. "It is so that they are interested in biological collections."</p><p> When preparing the skins of birds and mammals, Mathews said they will work with curators <br
from the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh.</p></p></div>
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