The mission of the Vertebrate Paleontology Collection is three-fold, involving research, conservation and education pertaining to the history of vertebrates. In particular, we focus 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.
The collections have 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 research associates. In addition, we loan specimens to outside researchers and routinely host visiting researchers and graduate students from around the world. Hundreds of scholarly research publications have been generated from the study of these specimens. The collections have also been instrumental in utilizing new technologies like high-resolution CT scanning.
We are by far the largest repository of fossil vertebrates in Texas. These collections document and preserve scientific work conducted in Texas over more than a century of scholarship. In addition to collections made by UT staff and students, we have taken on a number of collections made across 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. We maintain special collections made from Big Bend National Park, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, various Texas State parks, the Navajo Nation and others. In many cases, our staff have rehabilitated and re-curated the older collections, making them available once again to researchers and educators.
As a center for graduate education we provide office space for several graduate students in residence. UT currently provides one of the largest paleontological graduate training programs in the US, and the collections play 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 our specimens. We also play a highly visible role in public education and outreach, loaning numerous specimens and helping 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. Our staff routinely answer questions about fossils via television, radio and other news media. Lab staff also respond to public inquiries on fossils, chance finds of fossils, and fossil identification requests, and staff and resident graduate students routinely provide public lectures and programming.