A tray containing a collection of winged insect specimens.

Containing nearly 46 million scientific specimens, the research collections at the Academy’s Institute for Biodiversity Science and Sustainability (IBSS) are one of the five largest natural history collections in the world—and an invaluable resource to the global scientific community. From microscopic diatoms and DNA to marine mammal skulls and beautiful beetles, our ever-evolving collections act as a library of life on Earth, cataloguing organisms large and small, common and rare, living and preserved.

Stewardship of a Vital Resource

A woman stands in the middle of our antler collections.

Each of our nearly 46 million specimens represents a member of a species or an artifact as it occurred at a specific location and moment in time—data with immense value to scientists today, and for generations to come. Our collections help scientists at the Academy and elsewhere identify new species (like these eight new species of tiny anilline beetles); understand familiar animals in new ways (like these American song sparrows); author comprehensive species guides; and even answer historic questions, like tracing the origin of a destructive non-native fungus wreaking havoc on frog populations.

In 2013 alone, more than 1,200 visiting scientists also studied specimens in the Academy’s research collections. Scientists 50 years from now will surely have different questions on their minds, but with thoughtful management, we aim to preserve and develop our Library of Life so that it can continue to help answer them.


Photo of a butterfly specimen.

Each year, we digitize more and more of our collections, making images and data freely available to scientists, students, and curious people everywhere. Looking for answers about the ants of Madagascar? Love to look at Native American baskets? Studying California botany? Researching fossilized trilobites? We’ve got you covered with an ever-expanding set of digital galleries and databases.

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Explore IBSS

The Academy's Research Institute

The mission of the Academy's Institute for Biodiversity Science and Sustainability is to gather new knowledge about life's diversity and the process of evolution—and to rapidly apply that understanding to our efforts to sustain life on Earth.

A Year in Review

A Year in Review

Explore our 2013 "Perspectives" annual report to see all that we’ve accomplished in the past year—and where we're headed next.