Philadelphia, PA, United States
Philadelphia, PA, United States

The Academy of Natural science of Drexel University, formerly the Academy of Natural science of Philadelphia, is the oldest natural science research institution and museum in the New World. It was founded in 1812 by many of the leading naturalists of the young republic with an expressed mission of "the encouragement and cultivation of the science". For over two centuries of continuous operations, the Academy has sponsored expeditions, conducted original environmental and systematics research, and amassed natural history collections containing more than 17 million specimens. The Academy also has a long tradition of public exhibits and educational programs for both schools and the general public. Wikipedia.

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Agency: NSF | Branch: Continuing grant | Program: | Phase: BIOLOGICAL RESEARCH COLLECTION | Award Amount: 522.99K | Year: 2012

This project will produce digital images of about 12,000 type specimens in the mollusk collection at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia (ANSP), which is part of Drexel University. Type specimens are the original specimens that scientists used when naming a new species, so they are the standards of reference for identifying species and doing comparative research in systematic biology. The mollusk collection at ANSP is the oldest in North America, dating from the early 1800s, and holds type specimens named by more than 600 scientists. Project images will be served online and made available to websites that consolidate information about biodiversity.

Mollusks have the highest extinction rate of any major group of animals, accounting for more than 40% of species extinctions in recorded history, with freshwater and terrestrial mollusks being most strongly impacted. Only 3% of mollusk species have had their conservation status assessed, so many extinctions have likely been overlooked. The availability of project images online will help scientists identify mollusk species and assess their conservation status, which is urgently needed throughout the world. The project will train undergraduates from Drexel University in molluscan systematics, taxonomy, and curatorial techniques and in working with electronic databases and imaging equipment. Project website:

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: SEES Coastal | Award Amount: 356.02K | Year: 2013

This project will evaluate how anthropogenic changes in estuarine morphology affect sediment fluxes in urban estuaries, and how consequent shifts in the physical regime affect estuarine sustainability, based on a combination of environmental and socio-economic factors. Geophysical models of hydrodynamics, sediment transport, and morphodynamics will be combined with economic models that value ecosystem services to examine two study sites, the Delaware and Hudson-Raritan estuary systems. The work will incorporate field observations, historical analysis, high-resolution physical modeling, morphodynamic modeling, and coupled modeling of the human-natural system. Studies of estuarine physical processes will lead to the application of dynamical models that represent the hydrodynamics and recent morphodynamics in these estuaries, with particular emphasis on coupled estuary-wetland responses to channel deepening and shoreline modifications. Socio-economic analyses will provide a quantification of the ecosystem services under past, present, and future states of the natural-human system. The culmination of the research will be a coupled model of the natural-human state trajectory, which quantifies the feedback between human actions to alter the estuarine regime, the response of the physical system, and the changes in values of the altered ecosystem services. The proposed work will define the relevant and appropriate natural and human scales for sustainable management of an urban estuary and identify a decision framework that permits the assessment of socio-economic values across generations such that alternative predictive outcomes can be compared and ordered in terms of their sustainability.

The unique contribution of this research is the quantitative integration of advanced analysis and modeling of physical processes in estuaries with socio-economic analyses, in order to predict the trajectory of the coupled human-natural system. Assessment of sustainability in estuaries requires this type of coupled analysis because of the sensitivity of the physical regime to human impacts and because of the critical human dimension of ecosystem services in estuaries. Important intellectual advances will also occur within the sub-disciplines. The morphological model of the estuary and surrounding wetlands will provide novel coupling of three-dimensional estuarine hydrodynamics and sediment transport with system-scale morphodynamics. The socio-economic analysis will analyze the linkage between policy, economics and ecosystem services within the context of the coupled human-natural regime.

This research will develop a framework for decision-making leading to the sustainable management of estuaries. The models will provide prototypes for future decision-making tools for planning of urban estuarine economic development, environmental management, and risk management. Engagement with policy professionals at the municipal, regional, state and federal levels with responsibility for management of the Hudson-Raritan and Delaware estuarine resources will advance the use of system-scale integrated analysis of the human-natural system. Communication of methodologies to the broader community is intended to shape future analysis and decision-making concerning estuarine sustainability throughout the U.S. and worldwide. The research program provides professional development for six graduate students, one post-doctoral investigator, and undergraduates through the institutional research experience for undergraduates (REU) programs. The diverse-yet-integrated project team will foster strong interdisciplinary collaborations and educational experiences that will prepare the students for future careers in sustainability science.

This project is supported under NSFs Coastal SEES (Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability) program.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: Digitization | Award Amount: 626.93K | Year: 2016

In light of the increasingly urban future of our planet, a thorough understanding of the biological processes at work in urban areas is necessary for the continued survival of Earths inhabitants, including humans. The first step in that understanding is to know what thrives, survives, or perishes in cities, now and in the past. The Mid-Atlantic Megalopolis (MAM) Project begins this study by looking at vascular plants, with the digitization of roughly 700,000 herbarium specimens from eleven institutions, including public and private universities, state agencies, arboreta, museums, and botanic gardens, in the urban corridor from New York City to Washington, D.C. As the largest, oldest, and most populated urban corridor in the U.S., this area and its flora present a unique opportunity for the study of urbanization, particularly given its rich herbarium collections, containing specimens collected over the last 400 years. The data mobilized in this effort will help us achieve a better scientific understanding of living urban systems, a critical need for urban planners, restoration ecologists, environmental engineers, (landscape) architects, and conservationists engaged in creating more sustainable and better designed cities, including the constructed and restored natural environments of our urban areas.

Digitization of each specimen in the MAM Project will result in a high resolution image, a databased record of collection metadata, and a georeferenced point, all of which will be made publicly available online. Building on already successful regional programs, the MAM Project will partner with schools, universities, botanical clubs, and the general public to crowd source databasing efforts and to recruit citizen scientists to help build urban floras online, enabling not only increased digitization efficiency, but educational and research opportunities as well. The MAM Project also includes new developments for data cleaning and standardization in Symbiota, which will expedite the use of digitized specimen data for research, and new reporting features which will advance digitization workflow and project management. This award is made as part of the National Resource for Digitization of Biological Collections through the Advancing Digitization of Biological Collections program, and all data resulting from this award will be available through the national resource (

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: Biodiversity: Discov &Analysis | Award Amount: 90.43K | Year: 2017

Understanding and documenting the worlds biodiversity is the first step in biological conservation. Among many biodiversity hotpots around the world, southern Africa is particularly well-known for its diverse and unique plants and animals. Over the past decade, scientists have documented more than 600 species of grasshoppers from this region. Grasshoppers are ecologically and economically important as they are critical components of terrestrial ecosystems, especially grasslands, and include several serious pest species. Despite the years of biodiversity research in southern Africa, scientists have recognized that there is a certain fauna that has never been fully explored - the flightless grasshoppers occupying the mountain forests in South Africa. The forest patches and isolated mountain peaks in this area represent habitat islands, and there is no other land-based system of habitat islands in the world with the number, size, and configurational complexity as the Afromontane zone in South Africa. This project focuses on understanding the total diversity of grasshoppers in this amazing and complex landscape and the processes shaping this diversity. The results from this project will provide critical information about species diversification in complex habitats and help researchers better understand species diversity and distributions in similar habitats in the US and around the world.

This project will focus on the grasshopper family Lentulidae, which is endemic to southern Africa, and address the following two questions: (i) What is the total species diversity of Lentulidae in the alpine and Afromontane regions in South Africa? and (ii) What are patterns of speciation and diversification in Lentulidae as related to their geographic distribution? Scientists will explore inselbergs (isolated mountain peaks rising abruptly from surroundings) and adjacent plateaus in the Drakensberg Escarpment and the Afromontane forest patches in South Africa in search of new species. Using modern taxonomic techniques, the scientists will rapidly describe this unique grasshopper fauna and make the resulting specimen-level data digitally available to the public. The project will also reconstruct the evolutionary relationships among the focal taxa to examine how these small flightless grasshoppers have colonized and diversified in isolated inselbergs and Afromontane forest patches. Specifically, genome-scale single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) data will be generated using RAD-Seq to estimate phylogeographic patterns as well as for inferring population genetic structures for those species that appear to be widespread. The project will provide hands-on research and mentoring experience for undergraduate students at Texas A&M University and Drexel University.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: MACROSYSTEM BIOLOGY | Award Amount: 456.74K | Year: 2015

The need to understand and manage ecosystems at larger regional to continental scale macrosystem levels is becoming increasingly crucial with global climate changes and impacts of exotic plants and animals in freshwater rivers and lakes. Macrosystem management requires an understanding of how different levels of spatial complexity (within a stream reach to entire river valley scales) and biotic organization (populations to ecosystems) affect the functioning of rivers and lakes. The present study will provide this information for 18 rivers spread equally between the two largest temperate steppe biomes of the world: the North American Great Plains and the Euro-Asian Steppes (including those in Mongolia). This project will provide research experiences for under-represented participants (particularly rural and Native American students), stimulate STEM program recruitment in largely under-represented (EPSCoR) states, support some faculty and students at primarily undergraduate institutions, and contribute to scientific education at both graduate and undergraduate institutions in two countries.

These rivers flow through 3 major types of ecoregions within these temperate steppe biomes: mountain steppe shrublands, short-to-tall grasslands, and semi-arid shrublands. Scientists and students from the USA and Mongolia will sample the structure and functioning of these 18 rivers in a variety of hydrogeomorphic areas, such as constricted, meandering, braided, and anastomosing channel sections. Despite their similarity in biome and ecoregional types, the river macrosystems of the Great Plains and the Mongolian steppes vary substantially in fauna, flora, and community through ecosystem functioning. These variations result from differences in climatic patterns, the degree of riverine landscape modification (e.g., by dams, levees, and riparian modification), and the naturalness of the resident fauna. For example, most rivers in the USA contain some dams and many exotic fauna have been introduced, while the vast majority of Mongolian rivers contain no dams and their aquatic fauna is almost exclusively natural and different from those in the USA. Moreover, the Central Asian subcontinental area of Mongolia has one of the strongest warming signals on earth, with air temperatures rising three times faster than the overall northern hemisphere average. Consequently, riverine macrosystems in the USA can help predict changes to Mongolian rivers as a result of pending dam construction and possible species introductions to some rivers, while knowledge of responses of Mongolian macrosystems to more rapid climatic changes can help predict future effects in U.S. rivers. Therefore, this projects goals are to: (a) compare and contrast hierarchical scaling relationships and effects of system drivers and cross-scale interactions on rivers in similar biomes and ecoregions of the two continents; and (b) evaluate effects of climatic changes and anthropogenic disturbance to these river macrosystems.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: Biodiversity: Discov &Analysis | Award Amount: 361.66K | Year: 2014

This project involves several parasitologists from the USA, Brazil, Bulgaria, and Ukraine that will collaborate to survey, study, describe, and archive parasites associated with birds in five geographically isolated regions (areas of endemism) of southern Amazonian Brazil. The research will involve collection and deposition of museum specimens for research and will use both physical characteristics and genetic data from both the birds and their parasites to describe this poorly known segment of biological diversity in the worlds richest ecosystem. At over 6.5 million km2, Amazonia is estimated to harbor more than one tenth of the worlds species. Brazilian Amazonia harbors the most diverse bird fauna on earth (~1300 species), yet the parasite fauna of Amazonian birds is almost completely unstudied. Parasites are incredibly diverse and make up 30-70% of life on earth.

This project has a number of important societal benefits. First, this work fosters international collaboration between US and Brazilian researchers and students, who will travel between these institutions to teach, learn, work, and collaborate to further the understanding of birds and their parasites. Training of a diverse pool (including underrepresented groups) of US and Brazilian graduate and undergraduate students will augment the diminishing pool of expertise working on understudied parasite groups. This study also will have long-term value because parasites are known to have important consequences on the health, behavior, demography, and evolution of their hosts (including humans and other animals). Parasites are known to cause or spread disease among and between hosts. Thus, through modern approaches to gathering and archiving the material collected, this study will employ cutting edge research to make substantial lasting contributions to our knowledge of the diversity, distribution, and evolutionary history, of avian parasites in Amazonia, and therefore will have important human and wildlife health implications far into the future. Lastly, this research is a novel collaborative effort to gather data needed to conserve the biodiversity of the Amazon, the richest fauna on earth.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: BIOLOGICAL RESEARCH COLLECTION | Award Amount: 345.11K | Year: 2015

This project will inventory more than 50,000 samples of fluid-preserved mollusks at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia (ANSP). The collection is threatened by the increasing failure rate of old jar lids, which will be addressed by replacing the lids with ones made of archival materials. The collection contains about 1.5 million specimens from 140 countries. Endangered and extinct species are represented in more than 1,000 samples containing more than 200,000 specimens. Much of the fluid-preserved collection is appropriate for DNA analysis, in addition to being suitable for dissections. Ensuring that this material is properly archived and that information about is available online supports research on molluscan biology and conservation throughout the world. The project will train four undergraduate students from Drexel University in molluscan systematics, taxonomy, and curatorial techniques. Each student will work full-time for six months as a curatorial assistant at ANSP, learning conservation and preservation techniques. Students will receive an introduction to molluscan diversity and learn about the value of systematic collections for research in evolutionary and conservation biology. The general public will be introduced to the project at the annual Members Night at ANSP, which was attended by more than 1,000 people in 2014, and at the annual Philadelphia Shell Show, which attracts about 1,500 visitors.

The project will rehouse in archival materials 41,000 samples from ANSP and integrate about 9,500 samples received from other institutions. Many of the jar lids in the collection are made of bakelite or steel, materials now known not to be archival for fluid preservation. When lids fail, the specimens dry out, reducing their scientific value; all non-archival lids will be replaced with archival ones. Jars will be moved from standing directly on shelves into aluminum trays, so that fluid levels can be checked by scanning entire trays rather than picking up one jar at a time. Before the advent of DNA technology, it was assumed that samples sent on loan from the fluid-preserved collection would be destroyed when they were dissected, so ANSP asked for similar material in exchange. However, it was not usually recorded when a sample had been deaccessioned for destructive sampling. Also, in some cases, the presence of an alcohol lot in addition to a dry lot was not recorded in the catalogue. Each sample will therefore be verified against its database record, yielding a current inventory of the fluid-preserved collection. A module will be added to the database to record the condition of the sample at the time of rehousing and any action taken. All data resulting from this project will be shared with iDigBio (, ensuring accessibility to researchers and educators. Data will be made available online through the ANSP website ( and other portals.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Continuing grant | Program: | Phase: Digitization | Award Amount: 92.09K | Year: 2016

The insect collection of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University holds one of the worlds most important collections of grasshoppers. The Academy proposes to digitize and make accessible information associated with approximately 54,000 of its grasshopper specimens from the southwestern United States. These data will benefit the general public and research scientists, as they will facilitate the understanding of grasshopper distribution, the identification of pest species and species new to science, and contribute to understanding how species respond to environmental change. Field notebooks documenting geographic and associated species information will be scanned and made available on the World Wide Web. The notebooks are important beyond the specimen information they contain. They include observations from the early 20th century regarding vegetation, climate, land use, animal communities, native peoples and their life styles. This information potentially informs other disciplines including ecology, history and anthropology. This project establishes a collaborative framework involving Academy researchers, college students, and high school students, including individuals from groups under-represented in STEM, with an interest in the biodiversity sciences.

The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University (ANSP) has partnered with the Symbiota Collections of Arthropods Network (SCAN) as a Partner to an Existing Network (PEN) to build OrthopNet. The OrthopNet project will capture specimen level data from approximately 54,000 specimens of southwestern Acrididae (grasshoppers) and serve this data to SCAN. These data will aid in understanding grasshopper distributions, identify pest species and species new to science, and inform global biodiversity issues. The Academy of Natural Sciences is the oldest natural history museum in the Americas, founded in 1812. The Academys Acrididae (grasshopper) collection is one of the best and most comprehensive in the world. The targeted collection was accrued by Academy researchers surveying grasshoppers in the southwestern United States starting in the early 1900s. The Academys archives also contain field notebooks associated with these southwestern US collecting expeditions. These documents will be imaged following the Smithsonian Libraries Macaw metadata collection protocol, and hosted on the World Wide Web by the Biodiversity Heritage Library. Mining these notebooks for additional locality information will aid in georeferencing specimen records, linking field notes and other specimen information, further enhancing the value of the collection. The historical information obtained from the field notebooks will inform other disciplines including ecology, history and anthropology. Funding for Academy researchers, university students, and underserved high school students is also provided. Products generated from the project will be available at

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: ECOSYSTEM STUDIES | Award Amount: 168.62K | Year: 2013

This project takes advantage of the major coastal extra-tropical storm, Hurricane Sandy that came ashore in New Jersey on November 6, 2012. The proposed research will evaluate the properties and processes in the coastal salt marshes immediately after and in the year following Sandy to compare with existing pre-storm data. The relationship of short-term hurricane induced flooding and sedimentation to marsh elevation change, accumulation rates of plants and dead material, and changes in soil and water chemistry will be determined for three salt marshes of the Delaware Estuary and three salt marshes of Barnegat Bay, New Jersey.

This proposal addresses fundamental questions about the influences of major coastal storms on ecosystem structure and function. There are opportunities to directly observe effects of this severe disturbance on processes that have been monitored over time in the past with other funding. This proposal is a good fit for the RAPID funding mechanism because it addresses important and fundamental questions related to coastal marsh ecosystem dynamics, will enable new and additional sample collection and analyses, and is time-sensitive. It is critical to get plots re-established, baseline samples taken, and initial measurements made before the systems are further altered by the usual winter weather of this region. The prospect of future storms of this magnitude suggests the need to understand their effects on ecosystem dynamics as part of a new-normal for the East Coast.

Information from this project about the impacts of Hurricane Sandy on local salt marshes will be of use to local wetland managers (e.g., U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Island Beach State Park) and to the coastal communities in the area. The information gained will also be extrapolated to predict future storm event effects, will serve as a case study applicable to other Atlantic coast wetlands, and will advance our understanding of storm effects on wetland ecosystem processes in general.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Continuing grant | Program: | Phase: Biodiversity: Discov &Analysis | Award Amount: 400.00K | Year: 2013

The Amazon Basin is Earths most biodiverse watershed, yet much remains unknown about species diversity, population structures, biogeographic ranges, and ecological and evolutionary processes. This project will document and analyze the aquatic biodiversity of a 130 km-long anastomosing maze of high-energy rapids in Brazil: the Lower Xingu River Rapids (LXRR) and adjacent stretches of the Xingu. The LXRR faces imminent change from its wild state to both dewatered and lentic, impounded habitats following completion of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam. New comprehensive specimen collections of fishes, crustaceans and mollusks and associated data will be used to address key questions in taxonomy, evolution and ecology, and will provide a permanent record (placed at US and Brazilian museums) and environmental baseline of life within the LXRR to assess future anthropogenic impacts.

This project will advance understanding of the contribution that large river rapids make to tropical biodiversity and productivity, and will train a wide range aquatic scientists needed for the future study, protection and restoration of these habitats. An on-line, publicly accessible illustrated guide to the identification of LXRR fishes and invertebrates will be created. Two postdoctoral scientists will be supported. Training and learning opportunities will be offered for high school, undergraduate and graduate students.

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