Keeping Dead Animals to Study the Web of Life

Bianca Brooks on Monday, Feb. 13th

“Crack!” “Crunch!” “Snap!”
Those are just a few of the gross sounds the bones made when I took a turn “preparing” a dead Cooper’s Hawk at the latest Brains and Beakers, Youth Radio’s series of live science experiments. The scientist presenting was Monica Albe, the Senior Museum Scientist at UC Berkeley’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology.  If you’ve never heard of the museum, it’s probably because it’s closed to the public — only scientists and other researchers have access to the hundreds of thousands of bones and skins that make up its collection.  As head of the specimen preparation lab, Albe is the person in charge of preserving these body parts from the dead animals, most of them road kill or electrocuted organisms that get sent to the museum.
“The whole reason we have this museum,” Albe told the audience of Youth Radio students and interns, “is to document the world’s biodiversity so in the future, when we need to maintain parks or problem solve new invasive diseases, we have some kind of resource to study the animals.”
Watching Albe’s presentation, it hit home how practically important biodiversity is in our everyday lives. Non-human organisms are the indicators of the conditions of our environment, so protecting them is vital to taking care of our Earth. I learned that documenting the deaths of certain species can help us to monitor the populations of other plants and animals from the same ecosystem, and help us to know the state the natural habitat we all share.

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