The history of the Colorado Plateau Biodiversity Center (CPBC) begins with the energy and vision of the many Northern Arizona University faculty members in the Departments of Biological Sciences, Geology, Environmental Sciences, and the School of Forestry who in the 1920s started life sciences collections. Today, these collections are the foundation of CPBC’s seven divisions. Over time, the collections grew through the addition of specimens by faculty members and their students as the result of teaching and research activities as well as through donations.

In 2008, Northern Arizona University and the Arizona Board of Regents established the CPBC to focus on biodiversity teaching and research. Specifically, the CPBC strives to:

  •  collect and document species of the Colorado Plateau and comparative species from other regions;
  • interpret the natural world through education, research, and public programs;
  • promote understanding of the evolution and diversity of the Colorado Plateau; and
  • inspire a respect for biodiversity and the environment in all people.

The larger importance of the collections was recognized by Laura Huenneke, Vice President for Research, when the CPBC was established in 2008:

“In this era of rapid environmental changes, well-documented collections of biological organisms represent invaluable windows into the past ecosystems of our region. The university’s commitment to sustaining these collections for research and teaching is another demonstration of our deep connection to the Colorado Plateau.”

Current Operations

In addition to advancing biodiversity teaching and research, the CPBC brings together the various life sciences collections under one framework to improve communication and collaboration. The CPBC’s primary objectives are to assist individual collections with ongoing center-wide projects, including data storage and website development, and to improve resources. 

Today, 16 faculty curators oversee the CPBC’s seven divisions, which include: quaternary paleoecology; botany; marine invertebrates and mollusks; insects and arachnids; vertebrates; fungi; and environmental genomics and genetics. CPBC serves the scientific community and the public through its research, teaching, and outreach efforts.

The CPBC’s whole specimens, genetic material, digital archives, and related data support bioinformatics and biodiversity research at regional, national, and international levels. CPBC collections also are used as teaching tools in almost 30 Northern Arizona University courses, to advance undergraduate and graduate student research, and to create curatorial opportunities for students. Some of the divisions also offer public programs such as the “The Traveling Arthropod Show.”

The CPBC strives to maintain its collections by all modern museum standards in order to keep them in the public trust for future generations.

Future Directions

Perhaps the most immediate challenge facing the CPBC, and many other repositories, is the need to make the specimens and information housed in its collections more accessible to biologists, policy makers, and the general public. As climate change, invasive species, and other challenges threaten biodiversity, integrated and searchable online information about species distribution and biological changes over time will be ever more important. In the future, the CPBS will also increase its ability to address scientific questions across a variety of disciplines. Of course, the CPBC will continue to expand its collections as a means of supporting research, education, and public outreach.