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NPS arrowhead National Park Service, Department of the Interior Office of Communications 1849 C Street NW Washington DC 20240
202-208-6843 phone, 202-219-0910 fax
National Park Service News Release

For Immediate Release:
July 07, 2009
Contact(s):   Kathy Kupper, 202-208-6843

Ann Hitchcock, 202-354-2271

Agreement Signed to Aid Research on Endangered Species

NEW YORK CITY – The American crocodile, the Channel Islands fox, and the Hawaiian goose are just a few of the endangered species that could benefit from a partnership established today between the National Park Service and the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

Surrounded by liquid nitrogen-cooled storage vats in the Museum’s Ambrose Monell Collection for Molecular and Microbial Research, scientists and curators from the National Park Service and the Museum celebrated the creation of the National Park Service Special Collection which will house frozen tissue samples containing DNA of threatened and endangered animals found in parks.

The five-year renewable agreement provides the National Park Service with the Museum’s specialized expertise and technologically advanced storage facilities. The overall Monell Collection, launched in May 2001, will eventually house approximately one million frozen tissue samples representing the DNA of a wide range of species. Potentially the largest and most comprehensive initiative of its kind, the Museum's frozen tissue collection supports a broad range of research by offering an accessible repository of frozen tissue specimens. “This partnership with the American Museum of Natural History will provide researchers with a uniform method to collect, analyze and store genetic material collected in parks,” said acting National Park Service Director Dan Wenk. “It will be a great asset to our Endangered Species Program which works to stabilize and restore 397 federally listed threatened and endangered species in 195 national parks.”

The Endangered Species Act of 1973 deems that all federally listed threatened and endangered species be restored to the point where they are again viable, self-sustaining members of their ecological communities. To effectively manage existing populations of these species, parks need data about these populations, their genetic relationships, and movements on the land over time.

Researchers collect the tissue samples under controlled conditions using kits that the Museum provides. Documented specimens, packed in special equipment, are shipped to the Museum, where they are housed in cryogenic storage in liquid nitrogen cooled vats, at temperatures below -150°Celsius. The Museum will make the samples available to researchers, consistent with National Park Service requirements, for a range of comparative genetic studies that investigate how park populations change over time. In a time of massive species loss, such efforts are essential in order to preserve as comprehensive a record as possible of the earth's biodiversity.

The National Park Service sites with the most threatened and endangered species that are currently federally listed, as of October 1, 2008, are Golden Gate National Recreation Area (29), Point Reyes National Seashore (28), Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (24), Channel Islands National Park (24), Haleakala National Park (23), Redwood National and State Parks (21), Canaveral National Seashore (21), Everglades National Park (18), Biscayne National Park (17), Natchez Trace Parkway (9), and Kalaupapa National Historical Park (9).

Channel Islands fox blood is expected to be among the first deposits into the new National Park Service Special Collection. Previous DNA analysis showed that each island in the Channel Islands has evolved distinct fox subspecies. When it was necessary for Channel Islands National Park to establish a captive breeding program because of the threat from golden eagle predation, DNA analysis was used to calculate relatedness and minimize inbreeding. By 2008, reproduction and survival of wild fox populations on San Miguel, Santa Rosa, and Santa Cruz Islands reached about 650 foxes, allowing the cessation of the captive breeding and release program. Long-term storage of samples will allow NPS to monitor whether these and other isolated park populations are retaining genetic variation.