UNM biology museum will host second exhibit - Albuquerque Journal

UNM biology museum will host second exhibit

Christopher Witt of the UNM Museum of Southwestern Biology holds an ivory-billed woodpecker before “The Science of Biodiversity” exhibit in 2019. The species became extinct in the 1950s. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

When the Museum of Southwestern Biology at the University of New Mexico opened last year to the public for the first time, the response was overwhelming.

“We had over 1,000 people during that short time,” said Christopher C. Witt, director and curator at the Museum of Southwestern Biology. “It was too successful. There were too many people interested, and it was more than we could handle.”

The museum decided to put on the event again – this time with a timed entry.

“The Science of Biodiversity” will be held from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Reservations are required and can be made by visiting eventbrite.com and searching for “science of biodiversity.”

The Museum of Southwestern Biology houses more than 4 million specimens of animals and plants and holds the second-largest mammal collection in the world.

Each of the museum’s nine divisions will have items from their collections on display. The divisions are amphibians and reptiles; arthropods (insects, spiders, etc.); birds; fish; genomic resources (frozen tissue samples); mammals; New Mexico natural heritage; parasites; and plants.

The specimens run the gamut from ferns to an aplomado falcon to the skeleton of a minke whale.

Witt said the event will include a wide variety of historic and modern specimens, many of which are irreplaceable and provide unique information about wild populations and natural environments. UNM students, faculty and staffers will be on hand to show off their favorite specimens, explain their research and answer questions.

The event will feature scientific research being carried out by UNM students and faculty.

bright spotWitt said students are collecting animals and plants, and preparing them to add to the museum’s collection.

Many of those students are using the samples for their doctoral theses, and they are doing research on genomics, disease, ecology and physiology.

“There is research being done on the local level as well,” Witt said. “Species like deer mice, roadrunners, silvery minnows and Gila trout. There’s also research on native plants. The research also extends to all parts of the world.”

Witt said the museum’s projects on sandhill cranes and great horned owls focus on the local avifauna.

“It’s focused on the characteristics of the megafauna and their adaptations and plumage coloration,” Witt said. “I think people will enjoy seeing some of the bodies of these animals. It will help them realize there is more diversity among the local fauna and diversity of form and function.”

Under the timed entry system, Witt said, up to 36 people will be let in every 15 minutes.

“There will also be a short film played at the beginning to better understand the work that we do,” he said. “It’s important for the community to get the chance to understand the ecology that we have in the world and specifically New Mexico. It’s a learning opportunity for everyone.”

In recognition of International Women’s Day, also on March 8, biodiversity research by female scientists will be featured at the event, Witt said.

“This is fitting, because MSB and the UNM department of biology just announced the hiring of two female faculty curators – the first in the history of the MSB – each of whom will start in 2021: Dr. Lisa Barrow, curator of Amphibians & Reptiles, and Dr. Hannah Marx, curator of the Herbarium.”


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