Linking and Leveraging Biological Collections: Zoos and Natural History Museums

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General Information

When: May 3-5, 2021
Where: Zoom
Organizers: Sinlan Poo (Research Scientist, Memphis Zoo); Steven Whitfield (Conservation and Research Specialist, Zoo Miami); Gregory Watkins-Colwell (Sr. Collections Manager, Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History); Alex Shepack (Post-Doc, Notre Dame University); Jillian Goodwin (iDigBio Conference Manager)
Event page:

This is an invited workshop but workshop recordings and presentations will be posted following the event for reference.


Zoos and aquariums hold a wealth of biological resources in their live collections that is unique to these institutions and cannot be simulated with traditional natural history collections in museums. As modern zoos transition from exhibits to conservation organizations, zoos are starting to focus on ways to enhance their contribution to the advancement of biological sciences. In recent years, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) has placed increasing emphasis on the need for zoos to invest in scientific advancement through basic and applied research.

Given the similarities between zoos and museums as collection-based zoological institutions, there is an opportunity for the two types of institutions to work together more closely, both so that zoos can learn from the experience of this transition from museums, and so that museums can increase their collections by receiving biological samples from zoos (e.g. blood samples, genetic samples, digital images, and whole specimens). Despite the obvious value of zoo collections, they remain an untapped resource for the larger scientific community. Through a three-day workshop, researchers from zoos, museums, and academic institutions will gather to discuss concrete steps that zoos can take to make collection information available to researchers and standard collaborations between zoos and museums, so that biological samples and information can be shared with the larger scientific community.


We will use a website platform called Kumospace for coffee breaks and the meet & greet. Kumospace is similar to Zoom, but more casual and fun (there’s a rooftop pool).

Pre-workshop Meet & Greet
We are planning a brief Meet & Greet the Thursday (4/22) before the workshop using Kumospace. This is completely optional and at your convenience. We wanted to provide a chance for everyone to introduce themselves and chat a bit prior to the workshop. This will also give participants a chance to get familiar with this software before the workshop begins.
Date: Thursday, 4/22
Time: 4pm to 5pm EDT (GMT-4)
Location: a link to our kumospace room will be provided the week of 4/22. In the meantime please check out and take a look around to become a little familiar with it.

Google Docs

Virtual backgrounds




Monday May 3rd Speaker Title
Eastern Time
(GMT -4)
10:30 Presentation check Run-through and tech check for speakers
11:00 - 11:30 Opening
11:00 Introductions Organizers Opening, Introductions
11:10 Overview Steven Whitfield (Zoo Miami) & Sinlan Poo (Memphis Zoo) "A biologist walks into a Zoo…Untapped potential of living collections in Zoos for biology research"
11:30 - 12:30 Scientific Value of Live Animal Collections
11:30 Talk 1 Alex Shepack (University of Notre Dame) The Great Divide?: Zoo-Mu participant insights
11:50 Talk 2 Rebecca Snyder (Oklahoma City Zoo) Science in the Zoo: Accessing the Bodies, Behavior and Minds of Living Collections
12:10 Talk 3 Juan Diego Daza (Sam Houston State University) Zoos and pets are a good teaching and research resource for anatomical studies, a personal experience.
12:30 Break-out Discussions 30 minutes Pie in the Sky - What's the ultimate vision for a collaboration? What is the potential (ignoring all roadblocks)
1:00 Break/Kumospace 30 minutes
1:30 - 3:20 Digital Collections Data and Data Management/Sharing
1:30 Talk 4 Dalia Conde (Species 360) The power of standardization and data sharing across a global community of zoos and aquariums. Future directions of Zoo and Aquariums data integrations with other information systems.
1:50 Talk 5 Rob Guralnick (iDigBio) Mechanisms for extending core vocabularies - from Darwin Core extensions to ontologies for observations and measurements.
2:10 Break/Kumospace 30 minutes
2:40 Talk 7 Reed Beaman (NSF) Update on NSF funding for Biological Collections in the US
3:00 Talk 8 Joe Mendelson (Zoo Atlanta) Are zoo specimens valuable as museum specimens?
3:20 Break/Kumospace 30 minutes
3:50 Break-out Discussions 30 minutes Where are roadblocks? What are the inherent limits of zoo animals as data sources? What obstacles are likely to be cultural (different values and interests between zoos and musuems)?
4:20 Memphis Zoo Behind the Scenes Video Sinlan Poo (Memphis Zoo) Research Department: Research, Sample Storage, & Data Management
4:40 Wrap-up Organizers
4:50 End
5:00 Presentation check Run-through and tech check for speakers
Tuesday May 4th Speaker Title
Eastern Time (GMT-4)
10:30 Presentation check Run-through and tech check for speakers
11:00 Announcements Organizers
11:10 - 11:50 Overview for iDigBio and history of museum collections
11:10 Talk 1 Gil Nelson (iDigBio) iDigBio, Digital Extended Specimens, and Zoos
11:30 Talk 2 Greg Watkins-Colwell (Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History) Managing a collection of ones and zeros: a brief history of museum databases and aggregators
11:50 - 12:10 Biological samples and information routinely taken and stored at zoos
11:50 Talk 3 Sandy Wilson (Sedgwick County Zoo) "1. Archiving biological samples at the Sedgwick County Zoo
2. Maximizing research potential and minimizing biological waste – Sedgwick County Zoo’s collaboration with museums and universities
12:10 Talk 4 Jennifer D’Agostino (Oklahoma City Zoo) The Facts in the Freezer: Creating a Biological Bank at the Oklahoma City Zoo
12:30 Break-out Discussions 30 minutes How can we have zoos and museums share samples and data more effectively?
1:00 Break/Kumospace 30 minutes
1:30 - 2:30 Existing collaborations and transfers between zoos and museums
1:30 Talk 5 Jennifer D’Agostino (Oklahoma City Zoo) Mission Possible: Continuing the Conservation Story through Museum and University Partnerships
1:50 Talk 6 Stephane Poulin (Arizona Sonora Desert Museum) Life After Death: Leveraging Regional Educational Collections
2:10 Talk 7 Patricia Brennan (Mount Holyoke University) It is frustrating being an user: high investment with low yield
2:30 Talk 8 Adam Ferguson (Field Museum) & Debbie Johnson (Brookfield Zoo) To Keep or not to keep: Impacts of permitting agencies on zoo-museum collaborations
2:50 Break-out Discussions 30 minutes How can we have zoos share sample and data more effectively with researchers at academic institutions?
3:20 Break/Kumospace 30 minutes
3:50 Memphis Zoo Behind the Scenes Video Courtney Janney (Memphis Zoo) & Dan Dembiec (Memphis Zoo) Animal Programs and Curators: Live Collections Data, Population Management, and Cross-institutional Data Transfer
4:30 Wrap-up Organizers
4:40 End
5:00 Presentation check Run-through and tech check for speakers
Wednesday May 5th Speaker Title
Eastern Time (GMT-4)
10:30 Presentation check Run-through and tech check for speakers
11:00 Announcements Organizers
11:10 - 12:30 Adapting methods of sharing digitized collections information
11:10 Talk 1 Michelle Koo The Arctos Ecosystem: Linking preserved and living collections in the extended specimen network
11:30 Talk 2 Gary P. Aronsen, Megan Kirkham, Ryan McRae, and Katherine Walls (Re)Connecting history: provenance, health and diversity in the ape (Family Hominidae) collection of the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History.
11:50 Talk 3 Matthew Borths & Amanda Greene (Duke Lemur Center) Dreams and Challenges of Integrating Live Colony and Natural History Records at the Duke Lemur Center
12:10 Talk 4 Barbara Thiers (New York Botanical Garden) Botanical Gardens: Sharing Digital Data from Living and Herbarium Collections
12:30 Panel Discussion 60 minutes Extended specimens & Living Collections: Reed Beaman (NSF), Barbara Thiers (New York Botanical Garden), Gil Nelson (iDigBio), and Andy Bentley (University of Kansas)
1:30 Break/Kumospace 30 minutes
2:00 - 2:40 3D anatomical data use in zoos and museums
2:00 Talk 5 David Blackburn (oVert/UF) The potential impact of digital anatomical data from zoos
2:20 Talk 6 Catherine Early (Science Museum of Minnesota) No species left unscanned: how zoos can fill gaps in 3D imaging of museum specimens
2:40 - 3:00 Museum capacity for sample storage
2:40 Talk 7 Prosanta Chakrabarty (LSU) Vouchers and Genomic Research:

The Overlooked Science of Linking the Living and the Dead

3:00 Break/Kumospace 30 minutes
3:30 Memphis Zoo Behind the Scenes Video Felicia Knightly (Memphis Zoo) Vet Hospital: Biological Samples, Digital Images, and Handling of Deceased Animals
4:00 Break-out Discussion 60 minutes Collective thoughts & ideas after the workshop. What are 1) Low-hanging fruit (what can we do NOW), 2) what's doable on a near-timescale (1 year) without extra funding, 3) What's ideal, but will require time, money, resources, and staff - but could be transformative?
5:00 Closing Organizers Next steps and plans for the future
5:10 End