About BFL

Brackenridge Field Laboratory is an 82-acre biological research site that is part of an almost 400-acre tract of land originally donated to the university in 1910 by George W. Brackenridge, a former University of Texas regent. Evidence exists that biologists have used the area for teaching and research since the 1920's. Officially established in 1967, this unique urban field lab is now considered the primary reason that the university’s ecology, evolution and behavior graduate program is ranked eighth in the nation.

Butterfly on flower

BFL is one of the few research stations to be located within an urban area and so close to the main university campus. Because of this unusual proximity, professors at the University of Texas are able to conduct classes at BFL within the scope of a regular academic day. The field lab plays a strong role in UT undergraduate teaching in the life sciences and is a valuable magnet for attracting top faculty and graduate students to UT Austin. Research is facilitated through the use of six greenhouses and an 18,000 square foot state of the art lab space.

The Brackenridge Field Laboratory property is comprised of areas of rich natural vegetation which include a native bluestem prairie, old pasture land, former quarry, Firefly Meadow, Pecan Bottoms, Colorado River and juniper woodlands. This diversity has produced records of thousands of species including at least 163 species of birds, 20 mammals , 373 species of plants, 68 species of ants, and 1200 species of moths and butterflies, and 200 species of native bees. In the 1980's a mountain lion was even spotted at BFL. Additionally, several species new to science have been discovered here and were named from specimens first collected on the site.

Two women in greenhouse

The Brackenridge Field Lab is home to the University of Texas entomology collection, which holds over 500,000 insects from all over the globe as well as one of the most complete collections of dragonflies and damselflies to be found. Natural areas like BFL are akin to a library of species and the information that they contain. Over 40 years of historical baseline data taken on the biota of BFL represent important benchmarks with which to measure the impacts of environmental change.

For example, it was data from research projects on ants at BFL in the 1970s and early 1980s that provided the only before and after documentation of the ecological impact of invading fire ants. BFL is the site of the University of Texas Fire Ant Research Project where the idea of using tiny phorid flies to control the Red Imported Fire Ant first began. These phorid flies are parasitoids of the ants in their native range in Argentina and Brazil. The first South American phorids were imported to North American and BFL in June 1994 and the first permitted release of these flies in North America was at BFL in November of 1995. Many of the major names in phorid research across the county were trained at BFL and this lab is one of only two in the country where basic research is being done on new phorid species that may someday be useful in the fight against the Red Imported Fire Ant.

By the Numbers

8th best Ecology, Evolution and Behavior graduate program in the nation
40 years of long-term data collection in an urban ecosystem
82 acres of prairies, pecan bottoms, juniper woods and lakeshore
3 miles from campus
500 or more students take courses at BFL every year
1200 species of butterflies and moths
180 species of birds
370 species of plants
200 species of native bees
18,000 sq. ft. of state-of-the-art lab space
500,000 specimens in the entomology collections
6 greenhouses
15-20 faculty conducting research and teaching
$4 million generated in grants and endowments annually


The Brackenridge Field Laboratory

HD Short Documentary by Strike Productions
Producer/Director: Christian Moore & Nancy Higgins

The "Brackenridge Field Laboratory" takes an inside look at the University of Texas research station that is in danger of being re-developed into a commercial and “more valuable” piece of property. Established in 1967, the Brackenridge Field Laboratory allows scientists and students from U.T. to collect data on animal and plant life in their natural habitats – not in an isolated laboratory. Larry Gilbert, a biologist and professor, explains how the uncultivated land is being used for scientific experiments and observation, making the case for the research station’s value to both the University of Texas, and to the planet.