Advancing Natural History Research Using the Collections of the OWU Brant Museum of Zoology

Students: Josh Pletcher and Kyle Davis
Mentor: Lisa Tabak (OWU Department of Zoology)

Natural history collections are important repositories of biological and geological material. Biological collections provide raw data to interpret the ecology, anatomy, and evolution of living and fossil organisms. OWU’s zoological collections play an important role in undergraduate research and educating future preparators. Two projects are currently in progress: Kyle Davis’ work on size variation in house sparrows and Josh Pletcher’s work digitizing OWU’s collection of Ward’s fossil casts. We traveled to museums in New York and Connecticut to further pursue our research.

Kyle Davis’ research focuses on Bergmann’s Rule, which states that as temperature decreases, body size increases, decreasing surface area and minimizing heat loss. House sparrows (Passer domesticus) are an ideal study species as they are prevalent across North America and in museum collections. Birds in colder latitudes were expected to be larger than those in warmer latitudes. Tarsometatarsus, wing chord, and beak dimensions were measured on specimens from OWU and eight other institutions. Although sparrows were slightly larger in colder latitudes, these results were not significant (ANOVA, P > 0.05). This suggests that evolutionary pressure to increase size was not strong enough to produce noticeable effects.

Josh Pletcher’s research involves OWU’s collection of fossil casts from Ward’s Natural Science, originally established as a museum supply house. After their 1869 purchase, the casts were gradually overlooked and forgotten. Initial work focused on locating and identifying casts. We visited Wesleyan University to discuss cast restoration techniques, followed by the University of Rochester, which holds Ward’s papers. In 2018, the Brant Museum of Zoology was awarded a grant by the Mellon Foundation to digitize and photograph the Ward’s casts; current efforts are directed at photography and migrating data to Arctos. Future steps include investigating casts OWU donated to The Ohio State University, and restoring our casts to their original state.

More information about this project in Digital Commons @ OWU

Contact Info


Merrick Hall
65 S. Sandusky St.
Delaware, OH 43015
P 740-368-3075

OWU Connection Programs
Merrick Hall