University of Michigan Museum of Zoology

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About the Museum

Through the efforts of University of Michigan faculty-curators and staff, the Museum of Zoology (UMMZ) develops and maintains excellent zoological collections explicitly for use in research and education benefiting science, society, and the university. Organismal and genetic resource collections, at UM and elsewhere, are the best tangible record we have of life on Earth, providing a crucial resource for research and teaching about biodiversity, both now and in the future. Comprehensive understanding of the origins, evolution and conservation of biodiversity is predicated on analyses and access to the tangible record.

The scientific role of the UMMZ is to train students and engage in systematic biology and biodiversity studies. These broad and overlapping fields entail the scientific study of the diversity of organisms and of any and all relationships among them. Discovering life's diversity and its phylogenetic relationships is, of course, just a beginning. Phylogenetic analyses are integral to the full range of biodiversity studies. Research museums faculty-curators, and other systematists, use phylogenies to:

  • Discover patterns of morphological, developmental, or molecular evolution;
  • Learn about processes that underlie the origin and maintenance of taxonomic diversity;
  • Conduct studies of biogeographical, co-evolutionary, and paleobiological patterns to learn about the diversification, distribution, and extinction of taxa;
  • Learn about the tempo and mode of evolutionary change;
  • Conduct studies leading to improved classifications of organisms, better methods of taxonomic identification and nomenclatural reform; and
  • Inform efforts to conserve biodiversity and assess its role in ecosystems health
"Museums have two main objectives: the increase of knowledge and the diffusion of knowledge."
-Alexander Ruthven, 1929 (former UMMZ Director and UM President)

In these ways, the work of UMMZ and UM Herbarium (UMH), faculty-curators is integrated with the core concern of the UM Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology in biodiversity research. Nature of the Collections.

The UMMZ collections include about 15 million specimens total and is comprised of: mammals (ca. 142,000 specimens, representing 92% of all orders), birds (210,000 specimens, representing 100% of orders), amphibians & reptiles (414,000 specimens, representing 100% of all orders), fishes (3.3 million specimens, representing 98% of all orders), mollusks (4 million specimens representing 83% of all orders), mites (2 million specimens, representing 100% of all orders) and insects (5 million specimens, representing 100% of all orders). Specimens are preserved dry or in 70% dilute preservative. Additional curated materials include osteological preparations, frozen tissues for molecular work, and sound recordings for birds, insects and amphibians. Collections are housed in the Ruthven Museums Building on central campus. Type specimens are those that have been used to provide the physical basis for discovery and description of newly named species, and the UMMZ includes about 4,000. All UMMZ materials regardless of their physical nature are for use in quantitative analyses of biological diversity and discovery of the processes and principles of evolution. The collections are worldwide in their geographic scope and world-class in their phylogenetic diversity and quality of curation.