In 1864, as part of the university's charter, the Kansas legislature mandated that the university compile "a cabinet of natural history." For 40 years, under the leadership of Francis Huntington Snow, the museum amassed biological collections, and at the turn of the last century the Kansas legislature allocated funds to construct a new building to house these collections. Dyche Hall, now on the National Register of Historic Buildings, was completed in 1903 and was named for early KU naturalist and explorer Lewis Lindsay Dyche.
In 1963, the university added a north wing to create additional laboratory and office space and 30 years later it expanded again with the addition of a four-story wing to house ethanol-preserved collections. In 2003, the Biodiversity Institute was formally created to bring together all of the museum's collections-based research programs, scientific staff and graduate students, as well as the public outreach of the museum. Today the KU Biodiversity Institute has expanded to include new collections, and facilities, and programs in molecular genomics and biodiversity informatics. Federal research grants, private fundraising, university investments, and strategic allocation of resources have made these expansions possible.
The facilities of the Biodiversity Institute now include laboratories, student and faculty research areas and collections storage for about 10 million living and fossil plants, animals and over 2 million archaeological artifacts. The departments and collections of the Biodiversity Institute are distributed across seven buildings: Dyche Hall, Spooner Hall, Lindley Hall, Haworth Hall, Lippencott Annex, Bridwell Laboratory/McGregor Herbarium, and the Public Safety Building.
University Distinguished Professor Jorge Soberón serves as director of the Biodiversity Institute. The institute's research divisions include archaeology, botany, biodiversity modeling and policy, data management, entomology, herpetology, ichthyology, informatics, invertebrate zoology, invertebrate paleontology, mammalogy, ornithology, paleobotany, phylogenetic modeling and vertebrate paleontology.