The collection is also used for conservation awareness. College faculty and staff often bring beaver and snakeskin samples to local schools, so young students can have hands-on experiences with the area’s wildlife.
And, as Hamed said, having a collection that reflects the spectrum of Appalachian wildlife can serve as a potential dataset for researchers studying current wildlife challenges.
“There is a fungal disease that negatively impacts rattlesnakes, and researchers wondered why this disease started to appear 10 years ago,” Hamed said. “The researchers went into their collection and looked at rattlesnakes from the 1950s, and these species had the same disease. So the question becomes what has changed in our environment to make this disease more dangerous. “
Finding art in order – and family, genus and species
For doctoral student Katie Gorman working with natural history collections allowed her to merge an undergraduate degree in art history with a passion for conservation.
“I got my undergraduate degree in art history, so I’ve always been interested in museum work,” said Gorman, who is researching northern bats as part of his work. diploma in fish and wildlife conservation. “Upon entering conservation work, the idea of working with a natural history collection just clicked.”
Gorman’s interest in collectable work began with an internship at the Georgia Museum of Natural History. This experience led Gorman to contact Virginia Tech and offer to apply his newfound knowledge to the task of organizing and improving the Cheatham Hall collection.
Beginning with the drawers containing scattered skulls, Gorman organized the collection taxonomically: class, order, family, genus, species, and subspecies. She also reviewed collected furs – or “skins,” in collections jargon – of over-represented species, selecting the best samples to use in classes while storing the rest for future use. In addition, she worked on updating the database of depicted animals, so that future researchers and educators know the availability of these animals and where to find them.
“It’s still a work in progress,” Gorman said. “But I enjoyed the challenge of it. I’m interested in education and outreach work, and I hope this helps me towards a career that balances fieldwork with connecting with people. people.”