Read Dr. Keck’s article “Erosion of heterogenous rock drives diversification of Appalachian fishes” here:
The UT Etnier Ichthyology Collection (UTEIC) was established in 1965 when Professor David A. Etnier started collecting fish specimens from throughout the state for teaching and research purposes. At the time, little was known about fish diversity in the region, which made identification challenging. The need for a collection became apparent to Etnier, so he began sampling fishes from the many river systems in Tennessee. The UTEIC now holds approximately 425,000 specimens, a staggering number for a young collection, gathered from nearly all 50 states, Gulf of Mexico, Mexico, South America, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Antarctica, Russia, and the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
With more than 40,000 jars of specimens, it is the largest fish collection in the state of Tennessee and one of the most valuable in the southeastern United States. It has become a highly celebrated, nationally renowned biological archive. In fact, many southeastern US specimens in the collection have prompted the discovery of new species and have been used to study the effects of climate change and water quality on aquatic communities. The UTEIC is considered the most comprehensive tool enabling researchers to identify and predict changes in where fishes live and the size of their populations throughout Tennessee.
While UTEIC contains collections from all over the world, the bulk of its holdings come from east of the Rocky Mountains in North America, most notably from biological hotspots in the Southeastern region. Over the years, the UTEIC has served as a critical repository, possessing substantial inventories, such as samples from regional monitoring surveys spanning more than 50 years provided by the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. Among these holdings is a significant representation of southeastern jeopardized species.
The collection has also served as an invaluable resource for researchers, private agencies, and governmental organizations. The loan program processes hundreds of outgoing fish and tissue biopsies for DNA extraction each year. Requests for data associated with the specimens are constant. Since its establishment, the studies of at least 45 PhD and MSc students incorporated existing data or produced new data from the collection. Fish specimens used in more than 100 publications embodying the research of Etnier and his students are vouchered in the UTEIC, including 269 lots (2,995 specimens) of designated paratypes. The UTEIC is an invaluable resource for teaching purposes, providing specimens for classes in both ichthyology and vertebrate biology. Additionally, undergraduate students complete independent research projects using UTEIC specimens and data from the collection.
Natural history collections such as the UTEIC are becoming increasingly important as researchers become more interested in how organisms are related, interact with each other, and respond to largely human-caused and relatively rapid changes in global environments. In these areas, the UTEIC is very much an active and growing collection. Our current curator, Benjamin Keck, has described new species, including the Tennessee Logperch (Percina apina). He works with other EEB faculty to examine how land use patterns are associated with fish communities and serves on advisory committees for US Fish and Wildlife Service reviews of endangered species, including the famous snail darter (Percina tanasi).
UTEIC’s new and vibrant online presence expands contribution to knowledge about aquatic resources. Researchers at other institutions and government agencies can quickly access the data, request loans, predict occurrences for survey work, and generally increase the number of studies possible. In the future, staff would also like to develop teaching modules for a broad range of educators based on the data. For instance, a community ecology lesson could allow students to pick a local creek or river, use UTEIC data to determine which species occur there, and then explore the ecology of the individual species to predict community interactions.
Several years ago, Professor Etnier created the Etnier Ichthyology Collection Endowment. The endowment provides financial resources to help maintain and improve the collection. The endowment pays for the bulk of the supplies necessary for maintenance and collaboration efforts (alcohol, glassware, shipping materials, and fees). The ultimate goal, however, is to increase the endowment to the level necessary to support the growth of EEB outreach programs, facilitate critical storage improvements and, eventually, endow the UTEIC curator position.
Alumni and friends who support the endowment will help ensure the viability of this valuable collection. For more information about the Collection and the Endowment, contact Jennifer Brummett at 865-974-1948 or email her at email@example.com.
Etnier Ichthyology Endowment Established to Support Research, Improve Aquatic Biodiversity in Tennessee
Representatives from the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency announced the establishment of the Etnier Ichthyology Endowment at a reception on the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, campus Thursday, December 14.
“TVA is proud to be partners with the University of Tennessee, and David Etnier has been a big part of that partnership for more than 50 years,” says Evan Crews, senior manager for Natural Resource Management at the Tennessee Valley Authority. “We are thankful for the opportunity to support the UT Etnier Ichthyology Collection. This facility is a vital resource for all of us who work to improve aquatic biodiversity and protect the aquatic life that thrives in the Tennessee River and its tributaries.”
The endowment will provide support to continue the research conducted at the UT Etnier Ichthyology Collection, a facility used for undergraduate, graduate, and professional teaching and research. It also serves as a significant public resource.
“What started out to be a simple opportunity to celebrate the Tennessee Valley Authority’s generous donation to the Etnier Endowment quickly evolved into celebrating Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency’s generosity and that of so many others,” says Susan Kalisz, professor and head, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. “Today we celebrate the incredible dedication of David Etnier to persevere through many trials and tribulations and to create an impressive group of advocates and partners over the past five decades while creating a world class Ichthyology Collection and program.”
The Etnier Ichthyology Collection has more than 500,000 fish specimens from all over the world and serves as a significant resource for the research community. Several specimens in the collection were significant for discovering new species. Other specimens help scientists study the impact of global warming and water quality on aquatic communities. For nearly 40 years, the collection has served as a repository and reference for private and governmental agencies working on the fishes of the Southeastern United States.
“As an agency, we are dedicated to protect, manage, conserve, and restore the natural resources in the state,” says Dave McKinney, chief, Environmental Services for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. “None of this would get done, however, without the collaboration between our agency, TVA, and Professor Etnier’s work at UT. We are truly lucky to have a great resource such as the Ichthyology Collection available to help us fulfill our mission.”
David Etnier began collecting fish for teaching and research on the fauna of Tennessee and surrounding states in the 1960s. Fifty years later, the UT Etnier Ichthyology Collection is the largest fish collection in the state of Tennessee and the third largest overall in the Southeastern United States.
“We have more than 320 fish species in East Tennessee alone,” says Etnier, professor emeritus in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. “When I arrived on campus, 25 of those were undescribed. We had names and localities for the fish, but that’s about it, so I decided to write a book.”
His book, The Fishes of Tennessee, first published in 1993, is considered an authoritative source on the diversity of freshwater fauna in Tennessee. Throughout his career, Etnier taught graduate students how to identify, collect, and preserve hundreds of fish species.
One of the first projects involved studying river systems with unknown fish faunas. Etnier, graduate students, and TVA fisheries biologists travelled to the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, which at that time was the primary repository for fishes from the entire Tennessee River system. Several of the Tennessee specimens, collected by TVA field crews from 1937 to 1943, were catalogued and available for examination. Many others, however, remained in their original collection jars, unsorted, and unidentified. Etnier and his team spent two weeks completing the identification of the specimens, which launched the close cooperation with fish specialists at TVA and UT that continues to this day.
As the event ended, Chris Cox, director of development in the College of Arts and Sciences, announced the Etnier Endowment Challenge.
“Professor Etnier’s vision is to grow the endowment to $100,000,” Cox says. “Today, that vision comes one step closer to becoming a reality with a matching challenge from David and his wife Liz. We ask you to be an advocate for the Etnier Ichthyology Collection and help us achieve the Etnier’s vision and be part of the legacy here in Tennessee.”
For more information about the collection, visit the Etnier Ichthyology Collection website.
Adjunct Assistant Professor Ben Keck just published two articles, each describing a new species of fish that relied on specimens from the David A. Etnier Ichthyological Collection at UT. Congratulations, Ben!