Important scientific specimens are generally stored in collections where they serve as vouchers to document identifcation in published scientific research. Collections are similar to libraries in many respects. Specimens are filed in an orderly and retrievable fashion. Curators care for their collections and conduct research on certain segments of them, much as librarians care for their collections. Historically most collections of fishes have been preserved in formalin and then transferred to alcohol for permanent storage. Now there is increasing attention to adding skeletons and cleared and stained specimens to collections to allow researchers to study osteology. Many major fish collections, such as that at the University of Kansas, also house tissue collections, some in ethyl alcohol, some frozen at–2°C. Qualified investigators can borrow material from collections or libraries for their scholarly study.
Collections may be housed in national museums, stateor city museums, university museums, or private collections.
The eight major fish collections in the United States(and their acronyms) include the National Museum of Natural History (USNM), Washington, DC; University of Michigan Museum of Zoology (UMMZ), Ann Arbor; California Academy of Sciences (CAS), San Francisco;American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), NewYork; Academy of Natural Sciences (ANSP), Philadelphia;Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ), HarvardUniversity, Cambridge, Massachusetts; Field Museum ofNatural History (FMNH), Chicago; and Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (LACM). These eight collections contain more than 24.2 million fishes (Poss &Collette 1995). An additional 118 fish collections in the United States and Canada hold 63.7 million more specimens;at such locales, emphasis is often on regional rather than national or international fish faunas. These regionalcollections include the Florida State Museum at the Universityof Florida (UF), which has grown by the incorporation of fish collections from the University of Miami andFlorida State University, and the University of Kansas (KU),which also houses a very important collection of fish tissues,vital for research in molecular systematics.
The most significant fish collections outside the UnitedStates are located in major cities of nations that played important roles in the exploration of the world in earliertimes (Berra & Berra 1977; Pietsch & Anderson 1997) orhave developed more recently. These include the NaturalHistory Museum (formerly British Museum (NaturalHistory); BMNH), London; Museum National d’HistoireNaturelle (MNHN), Paris; Naturhistorisches Museum(NHMV), Vienna; Royal Ontario Museum (ROM),Toronto; Rijksmuseum van Natuurlijke Historie (RMNH),Leiden; Zoological Museum, University of Copenhagen(ZMUC); and the Australian Museum (AMS), Sydney.Leviton et al. (1985) list most of the major fish collectionsof the world and their acronyms.
The use of museum specimens has been primarily by systematists in the past. This will continue to be an important role of collections in the future, but other uses arebecoming increasingly important. Examples include surveysof parasites (Cressey & Collette 1970) and breeding tubercles(Wiley & Collette 1970); comparison of heavy metallevels in fish fl esh today with material up to 100 years old(Gibbs et al. 1974); long-term changes in biodiversity atspecifi c sites (Gunning & Suttkus 1991); and pre- and postimpoundmentsurveys that could show the effects of damconstruction. Many major collections are now computerized(Poss & Collette 1995) and more and more data arebecoming accessible as computerized databases, some linkedtogether and available on the internet. An example isFISHNET (http://www.fishnet2.net/index.html), a distributedinformation system that links together fish specimendata from more than two dozen institutions worldwide.