The Natural History Museum at American University of Beirut holds scientifically priceless collections of specimens of the animals and plants of Lebanon and the region. For several decades, these collections have been under the care of the Biology Department which has managed to curate and maintain them.
These unique resources for scientific research and education are the only collections that represent the biodiversity history of our area. We are working to make these more accessible for research and teaching, and to expand on a regular basis in order to accurately reflect the region's faunal and floral life.
The Natural History Museum has acquired a rich collection from many parts of the world (Europe, Africa and North America) though the majority are from Lebanon and the region (Arab Middle East, Turkey, Greece, Cyprus). Some of these specimens are valuable type specimens.
The collections contain more than 15,000 vertebrate and invertebrate specimens of over 1,200 species from many parts of the world (Europe, Africa and North America), although the majority of specimens are from Lebanon and the region (the Arab Middle East, Turkey, Greece, and Cyprus). Some of these are valuable type specimens, i.e., particular specimens that define the characteristics of a species and which are designated in the scientific literature as taxonomic reference specimens.
The continued growth and proper curation of collections in natural history museums, such as ours, will yield important research in the future. These collections represent a century and a half of sampling the flora and fauna of Lebanon and the region, and they indicate the previous distribution of species in places that one would not dream of finding them today. They are invaluable for taxonomic research, and they illustrate the impact of environmental change, be it caused by climatic variation, pollution, or urbanization.
The research value of these collections is, of course, closely tied to their educational importance. Exposure to these collections by both undergraduate and graduate students plays a significant role in attracting these young people into careers where they will carry on this work. Undergraduate students in AUB's Department of Biology use the specimens to practice identification of plant and animal species. The specimens are also used to illustrate principles of evolutionary theory in courses such as Evolution and Animal Behavior. And when students take such courses as Entomology, Ecology, and Plant Taxonomy, they themselves are adding specimens to the collections. Graduate students do similar work, but in greater depth through research projects that involve such things as analysis of the geographic distribution and variation of species. Three Master's theses at AUB have already involved such work on lizards, fruitflies, thistles, and mosquitoes.
We know of no other collections that are comparable in numbers of animal and plant species in this geographic range, and they stand as a tribute to a century and a half of American scientific and educational leadership in Lebanon. We also are not aware of any faunal collections comparable in scope or size to AUB's Natural History Museum. The subject region is located where three continents meet. It comprises a diversity of environments, presenting a range of greatly differing conditions. This variety of environments, telescoped into a relatively small geographic area, supports a rich diversity of flora and fauna. The AUB collections therefore are an incomparable asset for scientific education and research.
The Natural History Museum collections began with the botanical research of Dr. George E. Post in the early 1850s and the ornithological research of Dr. W. T. Van Dyck in the 1870s. Both professors were founding fathers of AUB in the 19th century, but they continued their research activities well into the twentieth century. Since then, the collections have grown as a result of work by successive AUB faculty members and students, as well as through the acquisition of other collections.
In the 1970s and 1980s events in Lebanon and the region prohibited field work, but research and collecting resumed in the 1990s.