The mission of the Vertebrate Paleontology Laboratory (VPL) is three-fold, involving research, conservation and education pertaining to the history of vertebrates. In particular, VPL focuses on the history of vertebrates in Texas and adjacent regions, but much broader studies are also conducted to establish a national and global context for Texas vertebrate history.
VPL has become a national center of excellence for the study of the history of prehistoric vertebrates. With cataloged holdings of more than 250,000 specimens (and perhaps three times that many collected), it ranks among the seven largest collections of fossil vertebrates in North America. The collections and support-staff facilitate research by University of Texas faculty, staff, graduate students and VPL Research Associates. In addition, VPL loans specimens to outside researchers and routinely hosts visiting researchers and graduate students from around the world. Hundreds of scholarly research publications have been generated from the study of VPL specimens. VPL has also been instrumental in utilizing new technologies like high-resolution CT scanning.
VPL is by far the largest repository of fossil vertebrates in Texas. Its collections document and preserve scientific work conducted in Texas over more than a century of scholarship. In addition to the collections made by its own staff and students, VPL has taken on a number of orphaned collections made elsewhere in the State, including the Third Geological Survey of Texas, Texas A&M University, The University of Texas at El Paso, East Texas State University and Midwestern State University. It maintains special collections made from Big Bend National Park, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, various Texas State parks, the Navajo Nation and others. In many cases, VPL staff have rehabilitated and re-curated the older collections, making them available once again to researchers and educators.
VPL is a center for graduate education and provides office space for several graduate students in residence. It currently provides one of the two largest graduate training programs in the US. VPL plays an important role in undergraduate education by providing specimens to laboratory courses in several departments on campus. At present, between 1000 and 2000 undergraduates are trained each year using VPL specimens. VPL also plays a highly visible role in public education and outreach. VPL has loaned numerous specimens and helped to develop exhibits across Texas including Texas Memorial Museum, Austin Nature and Science Center, The Grace Museum in Abilene, Roberts County Museum in Miami, Witte Museum in San Antonio, Houston Museum of Natural History, Dallas Museum of Nature and Science, Panhandle Plains Museum in Canyon and Big Bend National Park Visitor Centers. VPL staff routinely answer questions about fossils via television, radio and other news media. Lab staff also responds to public inquiries on fossils, chance finds of fossils, and fossil identification requests. VPL staff and resident graduate students often provide public lectures.