The micropaleontology collections of the MfN consist of three main subcollections:
The Ehrenberg collection – several thousand each of samples, mica preparations, drawings of numerous different groups of fossil and living micro-organisms, collected from around the world.
The Deep-Sea collection – consisting of several thousand deep-sea sediment samples and washed residues; the MRC Radiolaria Collection (long term loan status from NSF, USA) - Over 5,000 prepared radiolarian slides from deep-sea sediments, mostly Cenozoic, global distribution; several hundred deep-sea radiolarian slides made for recent research; ca 3,000 additional radiolarian slides not yet accessioned; around 2,000 palynology slides (dinoflagellates, pollen and spores).
The Ostracode collection – 10 cabinets of mostly Pleistocene/Holocene picked slides plus washed residues, total of several thousand samples; 2 cabinets of mostly Paleozoic rock samples and picked material.
In addition, there are smaller collections of other materials, including:
The Foraminifera collection – 3 small cabinets of mixed picked material and rock samples, mostly benthics, various ages.
The Keupp collection – dinoflagellates, mostly calcareous, from a variety of locations including some deep-sea material.
The Ehrenberg collection is the oldest major micropaleontology collection in the world, with material dating back to the beginning of the 19th Century. It was created by Christian Gottfried Ehrenberg, the first scientist to systematically study living and fossil microscopic, mostly single-celled organisms. It contains type specimens for over 2,000 species and hundreds of genera, including many of the most common species and genera in important groups of organisms such as diatoms. Most research with the Ehrenberg collection is re-description of type materials and fixation of names. It is the only collection in the MfN to hold significant amounts of material collected by Charles Darwin, and includes material from his voyage on the Beagle.
The Paleozoic part of the Ostracode collection includes some type material and in part dates back well into the 19th Century. The mostly Pleistocene-Holocene part of the Ostracode collection also has a few types. It was created during the DDR period, primarily for regional geologic survey purposes. The Foraminifera collection consists of mostly older material from Germany collected in the 19th and early 20th Centuries, and has a few types. The Ostracode and Foraminifera collections have seen only rare use in the last decade.
The Radiolarian collection was started ca 30 years ago as part of the global deep-sea drilling programs (DSDP, ODP, IODP). It contains a moderate amount of type material, but is primarily used for applied research in taxonomy, biostratigraphy, paleoceanography and evolution. The MRC collection is part of a global network of similar collections for radiolarians and other important deep-sea microfossil groups. The MfN currently heads this network and manages the main MRC collection database. More information about the MRC project can be found here: http://iodp.tamu.edu/curation/mrc.html. The current IODP phase of the deep-sea drilling program home page is here: http://www.iodp.org/.
The micropaleontology collections are also used for exhibition purposes, particularly the Ehrenberg and Radiolarian MRC materials.
The Ehrenberg Collection
Christian Gottfried Ehrenberg and the Ehrenberg Collection Christian Gottfried Ehrenberg (1795 - 1876) was one of the most famous and productive scientists of his day. Born inDelitzsch, near Leipzig, he studied natural sciences in Berlin, and became a friend of the famous scientist and explorer, Alexander von Humboldt. At Humboldt's recommendation, Ehrenberg traveled on a multiyear scientific expedition to themid-east, where he collected thousands of specimens of plants and animals, many of which are still stored in the MfN inthe Institute for Zoology. After returning from this expedition, Ehrenberg began to concentrate his studies on microscopic organisms, which untilthen had not been systematically studied by science.
In a period of nearly 30 years Ehrenberg examined samples of water, soil, sediment, rock - virtually whatever material might contain living or fossil microscopic organisms - and described thousands of new species, and hundreds of new genera, for science in nearly 400 scientific publications. Most of his publications appeared in the Monatsbericht and Abhandlungen of the Prussian Academy of Sciences, and can be read online at: bibliothek.bbaw.de/bibliothek-digital/digitalequellen/schriften. As the result of this enormous work, Ehrenberg laid the foundation stone for today's field of Micropaleontology. Most of Ehrenberg's studies were of a unicellular group of protists called diatoms, although he also studied, and named, many species of other protists, particularly radiolarians as well. Ehrenberg was in his day world famous (at least among other scientists) and was often sent materials from around the world for his opinion.
The Collection is thus of global scope, and includes material from all continents. Collectors range from famous scientists like Darwin to amateur naturalists such as Assistant Surgeon J.C. Madison, who provided 12 samples from Fort Washita, Cherokee Nation (now Oklahoma). On Ehrenberg's death in 1876, his collections of microscopic organisms were deposited in the Museum für Naturkunde. The Ehrenberg Collection consists of several parts, including approximately 40,000 microscope preparations, 5,000 raw samples, 3,000 pencil and ink drawings , nearly 1,000 letters of correspondence, as well as index books and other documentation. Because of the Collection's great age and taxonomic importance, it has been extensively re-curated in the last few years, in part with the support of the German government`s ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).
Information about the Collection is accessible both via the online Ehrenberg Collection Database, and by an ftp site download.naturkundemuseum-berlin.de/Ehrenberg where users can download original drawings, his daughter Clara`s handwritten collection catalogs and copies of his two great monographs: Infusionsthierchen (1838) and Mikrogeologie (1854).
Results of taxonomic research on the Collection are widely published in the literature.
References: Lazarus, D.B., 1998. The Ehrenberg Collection and its curation. In: D.M. Williams and R. Huxley (Editors), Christian Gottfried Ehrenburg (sic) (1795-1876): The man and his legacy. The Linnean Society, pp. 31-48. Lazarus, D.B. and Jahn, R., 1998. Using the Ehrenberg Collection. Diatom Research, 13(2): 273-291.