Focus: Birds - Policies & Loans

Policy Regarding Requests for Destructive Sampling of Field Museum Bird Specimens

The Bird Division houses one of the largest collections of birds in the world, with over 500,000 traditional skin, skeletal, and fluid-preserved specimens. In addition, we house and maintain a collection of genetic resources. We have more than 35,000 frozen, buffer, or alcohol-preserved tissue and blood specimens of more than 2500 species from throughout the world; virtually all tissue specimens are accompanied by voucher specimens housed at Field Museum or collaborating institutions.

The Bird Division is receiving increasing numbers of requests for use of specimens involving varying degrees of destructive sampling. These include requests to excise small pieces of skin, bones, and fluid-preserved specimens for biochemical analyses, to dissect fluid-preserved specimens, to remove feathers for coloration, pigment, and trace mineral studies. Subsampling of frozen, buffer, or alcohol-preserved tissue specimens also fall into the category of destructive sampling.

Because specimens used in these kinds of studies can not be returned in the condition in which they were lent, we have a formal loan request protocol for destructive sampling. We follow the terminology suggested by other collections of genetic resources and use the term "grant" instead of loan to apply to these types of specimen use.

Guidelines for Grants

The Bird Division welcomes requests by qualified researchers for use of specimens of any type from its collections. The following guidelines are to assist us in evaluation of proposals involving destructive sampling to specimens.

Please be aware that requesting specimens from our collection is an explicit acknowledgment that you support legitimate scientific collecting efforts, and that you value the time and effort that goes into collecting, preparing, and maintaining museum collections. In exchange for granting these specimens for research, we may call on you to provide verbal or written support of scientific collecting and our collections.

We generally do not charge for shipping these specimens. Unfortunately, our access to dry ice for shipping frozen specimens is limited; therefore, we prefer researchers to accept buffer or ethanol-preserved methods of storing the tissues for shipping.

We also require a transport permit (VS FORM 16-6A) from the USDA in order to be able to legally ship bird blood or tissues to researchers in the US. If your institution does not have this permit, access the USDA's web address (www.aphis.usda.gov) and download and fill out VS FORM 16-3. Please be aware that USDA can take more than two months to process a transport permit request.

  1. Requests for destructive sampling of specimens should be made in writing. Please submit letters (or pdfs) on institutional letterhead, addressed to the Head of the Bird Division (mail) or email to birds@fieldmuseum.org. All requests from students should be co-signed by faculty advisors. Requests by e-mail are encouraged.

    Requests for grants should contain:

    • a brief summary of the proposed research with sufficient detail to allow us to assess its scientific merit
    • demonstration that the techniques being used will likely be successful (for example, the genetic system to be evaluated should have a high probability of resolving the particular research question)
    • demonstration that the researcher is proficient in such techniques (provide details of preliminary analyses using similar kinds of museum materials or tissue samples)
    • why destructive sampling of specimens is necessary
    • availability of material from wild or captive sources
    • justification of numbers and types of specimens being requested from our collection (consider the overall rarity of specimens in the wild and in collections)
    • the amount of tissue required
    • availability of funding to complete the project
    • an estimate of the time frame of the study
  2. For grants of frozen, buffer, or alcohol-preserved tissue specimens, we prefer to provide supplemental material to researchers who have demonstrated a willingness to collect some material for themselves (see above). Grants of large numbers of tissues across many taxa will be rare.
  3. Requests for samples to be taken from study skins for biochemical analyses involve additional issues. These requests should address the following:

    • what is the minimal amount of skin that can be used for a particular technique?
    • can other materials be used instead? For example, could cartilage or tissue left on the underside of the skin or scraped off a skeleton be used?
  4. Requests for samples of fluid-preserved specimens should address the following:

    • for biochemical analyses, can the biomolecules be extracted despite the fact that the specimen has been fixed in formalin?
    • for dissection of specimens, there needs to be additional justification for any project involving the dissection of both sides of a specimen

After a Grant is Approved

  1. Please provide detailed instructions for shipping specimens, including contact people and their phone numbers and whether the specimens can be shipped in alcohol or buffer.
  2. We request return of any unused portions of samples when the project is over. If a piece of skin, bone, or fluid-preserved tissue has been used for biochemical analyses, we require the return of an aliquot of DNA to prevent need for additional destructive sampling of the same specimen. If slides of sectioned materials are made, we request representative examples be returned, or preferrably a digital image of the section. Written permission from the Head of the Bird Division is required prior to transfer of material to another institution or researcher.
  3. We request detailed protocols for the extraction of DNA from our museum specimens (both successful and unsuccessful). We also would like lists of genes that have been successfully amplified and sequenced from our specimens. We will compile lists of both successful and unsuccessful protocols to assist researchers with what we know can be a difficult task.
  4. In any publications resulting from the use of Field Museum specimens, we request that their voucher numbers (FMNH specimen number) be included. An acknowledgment of the grant is expected to appear in any publication, and we would appreciate reprints of any work wholly or partially based on Field Museum material.
  5. Researchers should make every effort to deposit molecular sequences in appropriate data bases (such as GenBank), and to include Field Museum voucher numbers.
  6. The Field Museum's Bird Division is willing and able to care for all types of collections. If you collect specimens as part of your research and can not or do not wish to adequately care for them in the long term, please consider depositing them at a museum. The Field Museum gratefully accepts the deposit of such specimens provided they are accompanied by proper documentation and permits (USDA, USFWS, CITES).

September 15, 1997; revised February 3, 2011