Research at the LSU Museum of Natural Science focuses on understanding the diversity of birds in the Tropics, and how it came to exist. LSU is especially well known for combining discovery based field work in remote places with cutting-edge laboratory and computational methods to investigate tropical diversity. Our field work revolves around collecting museum specimens, making audio recordings, and making ecological observations of birds in the field (although some students also conduct field experiments). Back at the museum, our work involves measuring specimens, analyzing geographic information on distributions and ecological niches, obtaining gene sequences to examine population and species relationships and evolutionary history, and analzying avian community and behavioral ecology.
Almost 1000 ornithological publications have been produced at the museum since it was founded, and these have heavily influenced the fields of Neotropical ornithology and avian systematics. LSU ornithology's h-index, a measure of the amount LSU publications are referenced by other scientists, is an astounding 75. LSU is also famous for training students in ornithology and museum research. LSU students are curators at many of the largest museum collections in the United States, such as the Smithsonian Institution (3 curators), American Museum of Natural History (2 curators), Field Museum in Chicago (2 curators), and many others. Many LSU students have also gone on to positions at Latin American universities, where they mentor the next generation of Neotropical biologists.
Most LSUMNS research is museum-based, and we rely heavily on the vast supply of data stored in natural history collections. The ornithology collection at LSU is world-renowned.
The LSU Museum of Natural Science is:
- The third largest university-based bird collection in the USA
- The largest and most active collection of Neotropical birds
- The largest collection of genetic resources in the world
You can find out more about LSUMNS research projects, visiting the LSU research collections, and using LSUMNS collections for your own research at the LSUMNS website. Also, see details on research by the principal investigators of LSUMNS ornithology at their research sites:
- Fred Sheldon (Professor & Curator of Genetic Resources)
- Robb T. Brumfield (Director & Curator of Genetic Resources)
- Van Remsen (Professor & Curator of Birds)
The Importance of Natural History Collections for Understanding and Saving Birds
Some folks might wonder why museum collections are important for ornithology or how researchers justify the avian mortality involved in bird collecting for the purpose of scientific research. Research and expert opinion is virtually unanimous that judicious scientific collecting has little to no effect on bird populations. Furthermore, collections have produced and continue to produce critical information for science and conservation. Besides scientific information, collections have provided the raw material essential for modern field guides. Anyone interested is strongly encouraged to read LSU curator Dr. Van Remsen's article in the journal Bird Conservation International on "The importance of continued collecting of bird specimens to ornithology and bird conservation".
Ornithological Research at the
LSU Museum of Natural Science
Caroline Judy (LSUMNS PhD student)
deposits genetic samples in
liquid nitrogen tanks at the museum
Tanager specimens in the LSU Museum of Natural Science
Ted Parker makes audio recordings in the field
© K. V. Rosenberg
An example of research on bird relationships conducted at LSU. This is a phylogeny showing the relationships among major groups of living birds. Click here for a larger image or here for the full article from PLoS One (McCormack et al. 2013).