Collecting and Diversity Studies
Great to see a new website providing down-to-earth factual detail about real zoology. Natural History collections have become unfashionable and are seen by many as a throwback to Victorian zoology, with the assumption that they collected everything that needed collecting, especially in terms of large mammals from well-studied regions, and there is now no longer any need for such efforts.
In fact, with the growing official and academic interest in, and concern about biodiversity, collecting needs to be intensified to keep up with constant change in populations and lack of detailed knowledge of regional varieties. Since I began collecting in the 1980s new species of large mammals (wild boar, beaver) have been introduced into the UK, species have been driven close to extinction (red squirrel, water vole) come back from near extinction (otter, pine marten) and the local race of red deer is hybridising with introduced sikas.
There are different kinds of collecting, however; buying a hideously bleached example on eBay and ticking off one more species on your list will not contribute to biodiversity studies. The serious amateur collector must, like the academic, collect as much data as possible about each specimen, publish it and make the specimen available for study. This has, of course, never been easier thanks to the internet and the original avenues of local natural history society publications (etc) are still available.
I'm glad you appreciate what we are doing here and thank you for contributing your photographs. This project will be ongoing for a while as we accumulate more specimens. There are more than 50 in the Saint Michael's College collection and it is growing. Ebay is our primary source and we purchase only those skulls for which we can confirm state of origin and ideally county. Trappers associations have donated skulls and pest control companies have also sent us specimens that we have cleaned in house.
There are a number of papers published on geographic variation in coyotes and our photographs will represent a new data set complimenting the published literature. The collection includes skulls from from farther south than San Antonio, Arizona, New Mexico, Washington, Minnesota, Alaska, Montana, Vermont, Massachusetts, Maine, New Brunswick. As the online collection grows we will develop some categories and pages to simplify searching by date and location. We just added links to ImageJ to simplify measuring.
As you point out, zoology and natural history are not static fields and there is so much more to learn. There are several questions that could be addressed with just this data set: are northern coyotes larger than southern; are coyotes from the New England larger than western coyotes because of wolf hybridization; are the teeth of Texas coyotes proportionally larger (as was suggested by one collector). The collection could also be used as a teaching tool for statistical methods.
Thanks for your kind comments, and more importantly, your collaboration! dmccabe 01:56, 17 September 2012 (UTC)