Scientific collection

A scientific collection is a collection of items that are preserved, catalogued, and managed for the purpose of scientific study.[1]

Scientific collections dealing specifically with organisms plants, fungi, animals, insects and their remains, may also be called natural history collections or biological collections.[2] The latter may contain either living stocks or preserved repositories of biodiversity specimens and materials.[3]

Scientific collections hold a tangible portion of the cumulative evidence base in such fields as biology (especially taxonomy and evolutionary biology), geology, and archaeology.[1] They may be stored and managed by governments, educational institutions (e.g. colleges and universities), private organizations (including museums), or individuals.

Prominent uses of scientific collections include the systematic description and identification of biological species, the study and prediction of long-term historical trends (including impacts of climate change), the dating and analysis of historical objects (e.g. via wood samples and ice cores with annual rings), and the maintenance of teaching resources.[1][4]


The indexing of the collections was historically made by directories, catalogs, index cards, today supplemented by or replaced by databases with information such as e.g. scientific description, including picture, name, location, find circumstances, fund age, scientific analysis, phylogenetic relationships, DNA and isotope analysis results, analysis of pollutants, references, condition of the property, owner changes and name changes.[5]

Many organizations support the indexing and handling of their collections by specialist libraries.


Research collections hold especially museums, notably natural history museums, botanical gardens, universities and other research institutions. There are also independent research collections, such as the Zoological State Collection Munich with over 20 million stuffed animals for research purposes. Public authorities such as national geological agencies or police units hold partly research collections too.

The Natural History Museum in London - with one of the biggest collections worldwide - is home to life and earth science specimens comprising some 70 million items within five main collections: botany, entomology, mineralogy, palaeontology and zoology.

Largest German Natural History Museum is the Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin, with over 30 million objects, including 9 million beetles and 275,000 jars with preserved in alcohol animals.[5]

Geology / Earth Sciences collections

Remarkable Earth Sciences collections:

Biological collections / Life Sciences collections

Typical collection objects biology are fossils of organisms, in particular plants and animals, plants, and animals killed, and be protected from decay, for example, by drying or preparation, but also live plants, animals, bacteria and viruses.

Plant collections are referred to as herbaria. Live plants are collected in the Botanical gardens, (trees ) in arboretums, aquariums, and partly in seedbanks, as well as e.g. algae from the Culture Collection of Algae Göttingen.[13] Live animals are collected in zoos and aquariums. The great Old Botanical Garden of the University of Göttingen e.g. represents about a collection of 17,000 species.[14]

Particularly well known in Germany are the major research collections of the Naturmuseum Senckenberg of Senckenberg Society for Nature Research in Frankfurt am Main with over 22 million natural objects (Herbaria 1 Million). Senckenberg offers to open up his collection to the SESAM database.

The Macaulay Library is the world's largest archive of animal sounds. It includes more than 175,000 audio recordings covering 75 percent of the world's bird species. There are an ever increasing numbers of insect, fish, frog, and mammal recordings. The video archive includes over 50,000 clips, representing over 3,500 species.

An example for a special collection are the objects of the Deutsche Sammlung von Mikroorganismen und Zellkulturen (German Collection of Microorganisms and Cell Cultures).

Remarkable and big Biological collections (more than 1,000,000 specimens) in Europe are

See more: List of herbaria in Europe

Remarkable and big Biological collections (more than 1,000,000 specimens) in the Americas are:

See more: List of herbaria in North America

Remarkable and big Biological collections worldwide see: List of herbaria

History / Human Heritage collections

Dendrochronology is located on the border between biology and history. An annual ring table or tree-ring calendar is a time series of tree ring s of dendrochronological art tree. Because of the specific growth of each tree species and regional differences of climate, such a table must always refer to a single species from the same region. Important tree chronologies are:

  • Hohenheimer Jahrringkalender (Hohenheim tree-ring calendar), complete 12,483 years back to 10,480 BC in the Younger Dryas
  • Aegean Dendrochronology Project to 1800 BC, Bronze Age
  • Belfast Chronology 5474 BC
  • English standard curve to 5,012 BC
  • Bristlecone Pine Chronology extends back 8500 years exists for the bristlecone pine in the Southwest US (White Mountains of California)
  • Sequoiadendron giganteum Chronology

Remerkable History collections:



  1. National Science and Technology Council, Committee on Science, Interagency Working Group on Scientific Collections (2009). Scientific Collections: Mission-Critical Infrastructure of Federal Science Agencies (PDF). Washington, DC: Office of Science and Technology Policy.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  2. Schindel, David E.; Cook, Joseph A. (2018-07-16). "The next generation of natural history collections". PLOS Biology. 16 (7): e2006125. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.2006125. ISSN 1545-7885. PMC 6062129. PMID 30011273.
  3. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. "Biological Collections – Division on Earth and Life Studies". Retrieved 2019-11-12.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  4. Cook, Joseph A.; Edwards, Scott V.; Lacey, Eileen A.; Guralnick, Robert P.; Soltis, Pamela S.; Soltis, Douglas E.; Welch, Corey K.; Bell, Kayce C.; Galbreath, Kurt E.; Himes, Christopher; Allen, Julie M. (2014-08-01). "Natural History Collections as Emerging Resources for Innovative Education". BioScience. 64 (8): 725–734. doi:10.1093/biosci/biu096. ISSN 0006-3568.
  5. Die Sammlungen | Deutsche Naturwissenschaftliche Forschungssammlung
  6. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-12-24. Retrieved 2014-01-04.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  7. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-12-24. Retrieved 2014-01-04.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  8. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-12-24. Retrieved 2014-01-04.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  9. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-12-24. Retrieved 2014-01-04.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  10. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-12-24. Retrieved 2014-01-04.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  11. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-12-24. Retrieved 2014-01-04.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  12. IODP/ODP - Kernlager / Bremen Core Repository (BCR), Universität Bremen · Universitätssammlungen in Deutschland
  13. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-09-01. Retrieved 2014-01-02.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  14. Georg-August-Universität Göttingen - Alter Botanischer Garten
  15. "The National Numismatic Collection". Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved October 12, 2011.
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