Larry Serpa collecting specimens inside of an emergence tent.
Larry Serpa Larry Serpa collecting specimens inside of an emergence tent. © Larry Serpa

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NEW Collection: California Academy of Sciences Receives Largest Private Collection of Western Aquatic Invertebrates

New scientific collection makes museum the biggest and best resource for Western North America aquatic insects in the world

The California Academy of Sciences announced today the new Larry E. Serpa Western North America Aquatic Invertebrate collection to the Department of Entomology, California Academy of Sciences. The donation is the largest private aquatic invertebrate collection ever received by the Academy, and contains 52 drawers of pinned insects, 5 drawers of on-insect invertebrate specimens, 80 drawers of insects in ethanol vials, and 30 bulk crates of specimens in vials. In total there are over 200,000 specimens including 91,900 curated, labeled, and identified specimens; and an additional 25,000 bulk lots of roughly 100,000 identified but unlabeled (coded) bulk specimens. 

The donation was made by Larry Serpa’s wife, Lynn Lozier, who worked alongside Larry as a scientist at The Nature Conservancy for the past 40 years. Serpa died in May 2021. The Nature Conservancy awarded a $30,000 grant to help fund the initial curation of the collection, and a dedicated fund has been established to supplement this gift with the resources needed to steward the collection and make it fully accessible to scientists the world over. 

“We are very grateful for this contribution, which easily makes the Academy the biggest and best resource for Western aquatic insects. I could hardly believe the size when we went to move it. It took two vans and a flatbed truck to transport it,” said Christopher Grinter, Collection Manager of Entomology, California Academy of Sciences. “Scientific collections the size of this one, are rare. It’s an incredibly important dataset for researchers, and these data will be available to scientists and researchers around the world.”

Along with these insect specimens were the research notebooks with detailed collecting notes and field codes, as well as an electronic database of the collecting events and inventory of the curated collection.

“What’s perhaps most interesting about this collection isn’t just its sheer volume, but its breadth. Often in collections we see a focus on one particular family or species, over the course of many years. But, Larry’s work focused on all aquatic insects, across multiple orders, across hundreds of localities in California. This collection will allow scientists and researchers to not just understand that a particular species was at a certain place at a certain time, but to better understand the entire aquatic ecosystem at a given time and place,” Grinter said.

Larry Serpa was an aquatic ecologist who spent his entire career with The Nature Conservancy in a variety of roles. Larry’s fascination with running waters and the life within them began with his Masters thesis which focused on the challenge of identifying aquatic insects in their larval state—a phase in which they can spend the majority of their lives. There they play a critical role in the food chain, yet little is known about them. In order to match the larva to the adult it becomes, Larry reared 90 different species from juvenile nymphs to identifiable adult insects and wrote a key to assist future researchers in identifying the immature stages. He took this fascination forward studying their distribution and habitats across the state. In 46 years, he made over three thousand collections of aquatic insects in 54 California counties from the coast to 11,000 feet, exploring diversity and distribution and finding some that were thought to be extinct. 

“Natural history collections like the one Larry made over his lifetime are essential in science, and they are essential to efforts to protect nature. In this era of global change, we need to understand what's out there, where it is, where it was and where it might be in the future,” said Scott Morrison, Director of Conservation Science at The Nature Conservancy in California. “Larry Serpa has left a legacy that will be generating science and conservation for centuries into the future. What a privilege to have known someone whose passion produced something so extraordinary.”

This collection was amassed across nearly all ecoregions in California, and contains the voucher specimens of important research conducted by Larry Serpa. It also includes rare and threatened taxa not previously held in the Entomology collection, like Lednia sierra, a stonefly restricted to alpine meltwater lakes that are at risk of drying up in the face of climate change. Specimens have been accessioned, permanently archived in the research collection, and are now available to the global research community.

“Larry loved running water and was never happier than when he was in a stream,” said Lozier, a program director at The Nature Conservancy. “He was fascinated by the invertebrates that make up much of the food chain, but whose lives are poorly known.  He loved searching for and identifying them, recording the details of where and how they lived.  He would be thrilled that all the richness he found and documented will be available to scientists all over the world through the California Academy of Sciences.”

As a result, information about where and when a specimen was collected allows researchers to analyze where these specimens were found, when, and where these species lived alongside one another.

By making all of the data in the collection available via open access, researchers, educators, artists, and anyone else that might be interested, can better understand where these species lived across a timeline of these past 40 years, and where they will be moving to in the future.

About the California Academy of Sciences

The California Academy of Sciences is a renowned scientific and educational institution with a mission to regenerate the natural world through science, learning, and collaboration. Based in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, it is home to a world-class aquarium, planetarium, and natural history museum, as well as innovative programs in scientific research and environmental education—all under one living roof. Museum hours are 9:30 am – 5:00 pm Monday – Saturday, and 11:00 am – 5:00 pm on Sunday. Admission includes all exhibits, programs, and shows. For daily ticket prices, please visit www.calacademy.org or call (415) 379-8000 for more information.

 

About Research at the California Academy of Sciences

The Institute for Biodiversity Science and Sustainability at the California Academy of Sciences is at the forefront of efforts to regenerate the natural world through science, learning, and collaboration. Based in San Francisco, the Institute is home to more than 100 world-class scientists, state-of-the-art facilities, and nearly 46 million scientific specimens from around the world. The Institute also leverages the expertise and efforts of more than 100 international Associates and 450 distinguished Fellows. Through expeditions around the globe, investigations in the lab, and analysis of vast biological datasets, the Institute’s scientists work to understand the evolution and interconnectedness of organisms and ecosystems, the threats they face around the world, and the most effective strategies for ensuring they thrive into the future. Through deeply collaborative partnerships and innovative public engagement initiatives, they also guide critical conservation decisions worldwide, inspire and mentor the next generation of scientists, and foster responsible stewardship of our planet.

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 76 countries and territories: 37 by direct conservation impact and 39 through partners, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.