BOZEMAN – Dan Gustafson spent 30 years collecting insects, worms, clams and other organisms that indicated the changing health of Montana’s streams.
The recently retired Montana State University ecologist has now donated his entire collection to the Montana Entomology Collection, which is housed at MSU.
The donation is the largest single gift the Montana Entomology Collection has ever received, said curator Michael Ivie, an MSU entomologist. He estimated that Gustafson donated more than 1 million specimens, books, scientific papers, field notes and photos. The highly valuable donation includes six cabinets, as well as many boxes – altogether, more than nine cubic yards.
Among other things, the collection documents the introduction and spread of whirling disease and New Zealand mudsnails in Montana, Ivie said. At one point, Gustafson reported that he had processed more than 18,000 worms to see which ones were responsible for helping transmit whirling disease to rainbow trout in the state. He said he found incriminating evidence that the Tubifex tubifex was the only important worm host for the whirling disease parasite in Montana.
Gustafson’s collection includes Tubifex tubifex and other Montana worms. The collection also contains an assortment of aquatic snail species, many of which now have the potential to become endangered, Ivie said.
“There’s tons and tons and tons of this stuff,” Donna Ivie said as she held up a plastic bag containing a clam shell. Donna, Michael’s wife, is volunteering to help incorporate Gustafson’s collection into the Montana Entomology Collection.
Other specimens in Gustafson’s collection include beetles, bugs, mayflies, stoneflies, caddisflies, dragonflies and damselflies. The dragonfly and damselfly portion of the collection was the basis for the “Dragonflies and Damselflies of Montana,” by Gustafson and Kelly Miller when Miller was an undergraduate at MSU, Ivie said. Miller is now a faculty member and curator of arthropods at the Museum of Southwestern Biology at the University of New Mexico.
“These undergraduate projects support success,” Ivie noted.
Gustafson also went far beyond the mere gathering of scientific papers and books during his career. He organized and indexed them so they would be easier for other ecologists to use.
“Dan doesn’t do anything unless he does it all,” Donna Ivie said.
Mike Ivie said Gustafson’s field notes and photos are important for documenting change, whether it be global change or human-induced change in Montana.
Worms, snails and clams may seem out of place in an entomology collection, but Ivie said Montana has no invertebrate museum. Therefore, the Montana Entomology Collection at MSU is the relevant state repository for Gustafson’s work.
“You can’t just throw that stuff away because it’s important and it can’t leave the state,” Ivie said.
He added that the first step after receiving a collection is to make sure the collection is safe and stable. Incorporating it into the Montana Entomology Collection will involve individually moving 70,000 pinned insects and almost 1,000 storage trays.
“It’s a massive undertaking,” Ivie said.
Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or firstname.lastname@example.org