Collections in Support of Biological Research  (CSBR)

Name Email Phone Room
Reed  S. Beaman (703) 292-7163   
Peter  H. McCartney (703) 292-8470   


Submit to Infrastructure Capacity for Biology solicitation (NSF 18-594).

Collections in Support of Biological Research (CSBR) provides for enhancements that secure and improve existing research collections, improve the accessibility of collection-related data, develop capacity for curation and collection management, and to transfer ownership of collections that are significant to the NSF BIO-funded research community.  Requests should demonstrate a clear and urgent need to secure or improve the collection, and the proposed activities should address that need. Types of biological collections that are supported include established living stock/culture collections, established natural history voucher collections, and jointly-curated ancillary collections such as preserved tissues and libraries of genetic and genomic materials. 

Biological research collections support essential research activities in the biological sciences. Collections are used to document biodiversity, identify species, understand organismal systems, recognize environmental shifts, explore alternate energy sources, understand evolutionary patterns, and improve agricultural, biomedical, and manufacturing applications.  Natural history collections contain records of life on earth that are unique and irreplaceable, including specimens of extinct species and temporal information on changes in the ranges of native and introduced species. Many collections also house voucher-linked ancillary research materials (including DNA and frozen tissue samples, digital images, audio and video files). Living collections play a key role in the advancement and preservation of biological knowledge by providing well-characterized and documented experimental organisms to researchers at modest cost.

CSBR provides support with the goal of strengthening the infrastructure critical to conducting basic research in areas of interest to the NSF Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO). In addition to providing support for securing the collections themselves, a high priority is placed on preserving and integrating collection information. CSBR funds activities that serve a broad community of biological researchers. Activities involving the implementation of new and improved curatorial techniques and tools related to the maintenance, provision, care, preservation, storage, and data management of collections are encouraged. Proposals should consider priorities that include:

  • Evidence of the collection's importance to NSF BIO-funded research or biological conservation on a regional, national, or international scale.
  • How the value of the collection will be enhanced by support from CSBR and how its contributions will further advance biological sciences.
  • Demonstration of an organizational commitment to adequate staffing and operating support that will result in long-term maintenance collection, associated data, and ancillary products.
  • Education and outreach contributions related to the collection's activities and demonstration of how the collection contributes to public understanding and appreciation of science and the diversity of life.

Proposal should be prepared and submitted following instructions in the Infrastructure Capacity for Biology (ICB) (core programs) solicitation.  Proposal requests must be designated to fit within one of three areas: Natural History Collections, Living Stocks, or Transfer of Ownership and the title should reflect the designation.

Natural History Collections.  Requests will be considered to make improvements in established natural history voucher collections for sustained, accurate, and efficient accessibility of the collection to the biological research community. Such improvements include, but are not limited to, securing and organizing specimens and related data. Collections supported include those housing complete specimens of organisms, parts of organisms, or direct artifacts of organisms (e.g., recorded sounds and fossilized footprints) and ancillary data such as preserved tissues and/or other physical samples (e.g., DNA libraries and digital images). Also eligible are collections that maintain ancillary material documenting the environmental context of the primary organism (e.g., soil and water samples, temperature and precipitation records, specimen-based geographic information, field notes).  Only ancillary material that can be linked to vouchered specimens will be considered eligible. CSBR encourages digitization activities that help to secure collections and requires that funded activities interface with iDigBio. 

CSBR  does not support establishment of new collections, single-taxon natural history collections devoted to a narrow research focus, or collecting new specimens to augment collections; these are integral activities of research projects supported by other programs at NSF.  Projects to computerize card files of literature sources, observation records, or other library items are not eligible. Since NSF does not normally provide support for research with disease-related goals, including work on the etiology, diagnosis, or treatment of physical or mental disease, abnormality, or malfunction in human beings or animals, CSBR does not provide support for collections of materials used in these research areas.  Federally held and/or owned collections cannot be supported with NSF funds. 

Proposals requesting support for Natural History Collections should consider program priorities that include:

  • Urgency and long-term security of specimens and their associated data, along with the host institution's ability to meet special needs that arise from rapid expansion or unique opportunities.
  • Taxonomic breadth, including the taxonomic groups housed in the collections for which support is being sought and estimates of the numbers of specimens or lots, numbers of species, and information on the geographic areas, oceanographic regions, or stratigraphic horizons from which specimens were collected.
  • Value of the collection for scientific research and resource management. Indicators of value, in addition to taxonomic breadth, include measures of use by the scientific community such as numbers of specimen loans, visitors to the collection, data requests, and publications based on specimens in the collection, number of type specimens, age of the collection, and presence of extinct or rare species. Internet accessibility to collection data (including analytics and integration with regional, national, and international collections network-building efforts) and growth and use of the collection over at least the last five years should be described.
  • Well justified and documented use of the collections. Long-term commitment to maintain the collections with adequate curatorial support is expected.  Supporting data should be included concisely in tabular format:
    • Size, composition, and areas of taxonomic, geographic and/or geologic concentration of the collection
    • Rate of growth over the past five years
    • Degree and range of use in research, education, and other activities over the past five years (e.g. number and type of loans, number of visitors, data requests, and other pertinent statistics, arranged according to professional or student use)
    • Research impact over the past five years (e.g. tabulate the number of publications or other products, arranged by professional or student, that are based on specimens in the collection, and provide up to five particularly significant examples).
  • Digitization activities such as databasing, georeferencing, and imaging, as activities designed to secure and improve access to collections. All scientifically significant specimens handled, if not already digitized, should be digitized and the data shared with iDigBio (, supported by the ADBC Program. Sharing data through tools such as the Integrated Publishing Toolkit ( developed by the Global Biodiversity Information Facility is required. Development of collection specific web sites to serve data is not a priority. Digitization activities focused on augmenting or enhancing large volumes of data from well-secured collections should consider other funding outlets. For example, the Advancing Digitization of Biodiversity Collections (ADBC) Program ( specifically seeks to enhance and expand the national resource of digital data documenting existing vouchered biological and paleontological collections and to advance scientific knowledge by improving access to digitized information (including images) residing in vouchered scientific collections across the United States.
  • Well justified project activities and timelines documented through task analysis.
  • Clear policies (including those concerning loans, accessions, deaccessions, and collecting permits), protocols and user charges or fees that govern acquisitions, loans, and access to the specimens and internet-based information associated with them. All collections supported by CSBR funds must be open to access by the research community. [See data management plan guidelines for BIO.]
  • Plans for advising the biological research community and the general public of the avenues of access to a collection and its associated data, publication of a new curatorial or collection management practice, or the outcome of discipline-wide workshops should be included as appropriate.
  • Commitment to collection staffing and normal operating support that are adequate for the regular use, growth, care, and management of the collection should be documented. Normal collection operations include specimen acquisition resulting from the research activities of the collection's curators and other associated staff or from the acceptance of donated materials, maintenance of those collections, answering loan and data requests, pursuing specimen-based research, and accommodating visiting researchers. Support from CSBR may not be requested to defray these ordinary operating costs.

Living Stocks, Funding can be provided to secure and improve existing collections of living organisms (including viruses and bacteriophages) used in the basic biological research funded by NSF BIO. Proposal will be considered that implement innovative handling of living stocks or demonstrate well-defined improvements in existing collections. Support for establishing new collections, collecting specimens, or growing existing collections is not allowable.

Requests are expected to describe activities that emphasize the security, maintenance, and provision of living organisms. Funds may be requested for one-time improvements in operations of established collections. Support for development of derivatives (such as isolated DNA, DNA libraries) or other materials (such as antibodies) relevant to the study of the sources may be provided but support for original research by collection staff on these derivatives or other materials should be sought from appropriate research programs at NSF, and at other public and private agencies. When appropriate the collection should interface with relevant national efforts that provide an integrated framework for collections data.

Proposals should consider program priorities for Living Stock collections that can be documented by describing:

  • The importance of the organism(s) to the research community supported by NSF's Directorate for Biological Sciences and the relevance of the collection's usage to the goals of NSF BIO. Collections of organisms whose principal users are NSF BIO-supported researchers will be given priority for support.
  • The breadth of usage of the collection by the potential user community. Both the types of use and numbers of users are considered to reflect the value of the collection to the research community.
  • The uniqueness of the collection, both within and outside the U.S. and as documented by number of stocks and, where appropriate, number of mutant strains, species, genera, types of services and products other than stocks, etc. and the relationship to similar collections, including estimates of overlap in collection content, how the collection interfaces with other similar collections worldwide, and methods for communications between these organizations.
  • Clarity of the management structure and capability of the project team, inclusion of scientifically-qualified staff, and relationship to organizational units that demonstrate commitment to long-term access and sustainability of the resource.
  • Ability to provide up-to-date information about the stocks, availability, and publicly accessible methods for ordering/requesting strains and other resources.
  • Procedures and practices intended to assure the quality and integrity of the individual stocks and other resources, including reducing or eliminating contamination, and steps being taken to assess the quality of service provided to the community. Describe plans to develop a back-up stock protocol (whether as frozen stocks at a secondary location or in another procedure) to ensure stock integrity.
  • Policies for acquisition, addition and removal of stocks and capability to document the number of stocks added to, or removed from, the collection in previous years, and the number of duplicate or unidentified stocks at the current time. Policies should justify duplicates, plans to identify any unknown stocks, and describe protocols for identifying dead stocks and the procedures for removal.
  • Expected changes in the scope of the collection, in its manner of operation, in staffing, or in facilities. Describe short- and long-term plans for the collection in the event of unanticipated changes in participation by the key personnel.
  • Estimates of staff time and other costs (e.g., pro-rated cost of glassware, growth media, cage charges) required for accession and for yearly maintenance of a typical stock.  If the collection has had previous support, it is helpful to indicate the fraction of past annual revenues that can be attributed to NSF, other federal agencies, user charges, or other sources. Estimate the expected change, if any, in this total cost of operation over the period for which funding is requested. Proposers should anticipate that the fraction of total cost borne by NSF will decrease over time, and that the actual amount of direct NSF support may itself decrease. Thus, a strategic plan for long-term sustainability or disposition of the collection should be addressed.
  • User Charges. Describe the accounting basis or other strategy for the establishment of user fees and the use of fees to offset operational costs of the collection.  Sustainable collections should expect to recover a significant fraction of the cost of operation through user fees. The fees for any additional services or products (i.e. those provided in addition to samples of living stocks from the collection) are expected to reflect the cost to the collection of providing the services or products.
  • The participation of an active external advisory group whose membership includes current or potential users drawn from areas of research interest to NSF BIO. Such groups play an important role in advising managers of the collection on matters of policy and practice including, for example, user fees and acquisition policies.
  • A long-term strategic plan for the collection facility support or disposition, including a financial plan for the long-term maintenance and sustainability of the collection.

Transfer of Ownership.  Funding may be requested to move valuable established collections to a new institutional home or to consolidate or combine collections. Requests for moving or consolidating must include an explicit plan for the activity.  Proposals in this competitive area may target either Living Stock or Natural History collections.  These may include opportunities to salvage a significant collection that otherwise would be lost, and the preservation of collections that facilitate critical knowledge discovery or enable substantial growth in a scientific discipline. Collections that are to be transferred should conform to considerations for eligibility for either Living Stocks or Natural History (above).  Authorization of ownership transfer and moving estimates should be documented (see Infrastructure Capacity for Biology (ICB) solicitation; Authorities and Cost Basis) as Supplementary Documents.


General Information for the CSBR Programmatic Area

Potential PIs are strongly encouraged to contact one of the CSBR Program Directors before beginning the effort of preparing a proposal.

Specialized items that are components of a large system (e.g., specimen cabinets and compactors) are considered as equipment under the CSBR program (see Infrastructure Capacity for Biology (ICB) solicitation Special Information and Supplementary Documents section for additional guidance).

Support provided by the CSBR Program is restricted to costs for the proposed project above the normal operating budget received from the organization responsible for the collection. Collaborative proposals that link collection information among institutions and enhance accessibility will be considered but should clearly focus on securing collections as a motivation for data integration, and should be interoperable with other online resources, including iDigBio for natural history collections.

Plans for long-term maintenance of the collection should be addressed in the project description. Building or facilities renovation associated with collection improvement will not be supported by CSBR, but may be provided by the submitting organization as an indication of organizational commitment to the long-term housing of the collections. This should be included in the Facilities, Equipment and Other Resources section of the proposal. The description should be narrative in nature and must not include any quantifiable financial information. See the Grant Proposal Guide, Chapter II.C.2.i for additional guidance on this section.

CSBR does not provide support to: 1) Defray ordinary operating expenses of natural history collections; 2) Purchase specimens; 3) Conduct field work, collect specimens, or increase the size of collections; 4) Create or establish a new collection; or 5) Improve libraries or archives.

Organizations receiving specimens collected through other research activities (e.g., Dimensions of Biodiversity or programs within the Systematics and Biodiversity Science Cluster (SBS) in the NSF's Division of Environmental Biology) should reach an agreement with the researcher(s) prior to voucher deposition so that specimens are prepared in a format compatible with the standards (including digitization and georeferencing) of the receiving collection.

Research proposals for new and improved curatorial techniques and tools related to the preservation and organization of tissues, genetic material, images, and collection data that can be linked to vouchered specimens, including new types of collections, should be submitted to the Infrastructure Innovation for Biological Research (IIBR) Program.

If you are facing a time-critical emergency situation related to support for a living stocks or natural history collection, please contact the Program Director discuss your circumstances and the potential for submitting a Rapid Response Research (RAPID) proposal.  RAPID requests may be for up to $200k and up to one year in duration.  For additional requirements regarding RAPID proposals please see the NSF Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide, Chapter II, Section E1.

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