biodiversity

The world's largest digitized herbarium: new horizons for research

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What do you think is the most important national treasure that is unjustly misunderstood? Some six million plants, algae, fungi, vascular plants, such as flowering plants, conifers and ferns, brought back from countless expeditions around the world over 350 years since the creation of the Royal Garden of Medicinal Plants in 1635, sleep in the cupboards of the Botanical Gallery of the National Museum of Natural History (MNHN) in Paris. A unique national herbarium composed of a fantastic number of diverse plant varieties covering about 47% of the world's flora. which until now has been accessible only to specialists, has just been the subject of a vast programme of renovation and digitization. Putting the herbarium online is "a major source of data" for scientists around the world.
Photo National Herbarium, MNHN (algae)

 
Ahe renovation of the Museum's National Herbarium, a titanic undertaking that has made it possible to renovate the collections and installations of the world's largest herbarium, has thus seen the realization of a feat unequalled to date: the digitization and online availability of images of more than 6 million herbarium beds. Exceptional work online and available to anyone.
A team from the Institute of Systematics, Evolution, Biodiversity (National Museum of Natural History / CNRS / EPHE / UPMC) and the Museum's Collections Department describes the database obtained in an article that has just appeared in the journal Scientific data, allowing scientists to appropriate them in their future research work, thus taking on the status of a "laboratory notebook".
 
 
The National Herbarium of the Museum contains about 8 million specimens, arrived from all over the world over the centuries and expeditions, making it the most important botanical and fungal collection in the world. Its ambition is to bring together all the species of plants, lichens, algae and fungi on the planet; it is the result of more than 350 years of botanical activity. Between 2008 and 2012, the National Herbarium was completely renovated, a process that included a restoration of the building and a systematic reclassification of specimens in mobile shelves to meet current conservation standards. Nearly one million samples from the collection of vascular plants (flowering plants, conifers, ferns...) were restored on this occasion. This collection alone counts about 6 million specimens and covers about 47% of the world's flora with a remarkable historical representation (more than 40% of the samples were collected before 1900).
 
 
In conjunction with the renovation of the Herbarium, a major operation to digitize the specimens in the collection was undertaken: 5,400,000 specimens of vascular plants were digitized, i.e. 90% of the estimated volume of this group preserved at the Museum. An article, which has just been published in the journal Scientific Data, describes the dataset thus generated for vascular plants, but also the complex processes that led to its constitution. This publication was prepared by a team of staff from the Institute of Systematics, Evolution and Biodiversity (ISYEB: Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle /CNRS/UPMC/EPHE) and the Museum's Collections Department.
 
Each specimen in this scientific collection must be accompanied by a certain amount of indispensable information about the preserved plant: its precise place of collection (from the country or region to GPS coordinates), its collector and its date of collection.
Other information on the environment, vernacular names or local uses of these plants may be provided. The observation of the specimen provides the other information (shape of leaves, flowers, fruits, etc.). A participatory science tool developed at the MNHN, les Herbonautes (lesherbonautes.mnhn.fr), contributes to the continuous enrichment of data not yet filled in.
These specimens from a collection of nearly 170,000 vascular plant taxa collected over several centuries from all over the world are unequalled witnesses to the great upheavals due to the historical impact of global changes on plant biodiversity, particularly those created by Man, but not only: a host of questions can also be addressed in macro-evolution, macro-ecology, social sciences, agriculture, forestry...
 
This article, a world first for a collection of this importance, extensively documents this dataset and thus allows future users to take full account of possible biases when using it for their research work. It is the first in a series aimed at exploiting these data for the purposes of biodiversity conservation and the study of the endemicity of the world's floras, made possible by this work.
An emergency in the face of the challenges of climate change and the sometimes very rapid loss of biodiversity.

 
Reference: Gwenaël Le Bras, Marc Pignal, Marc L. Jeanson, Serge Muller, Cécile Aupic, Benoît Carré, Grégoire Flament, Myriam Gaudeul, Claudia Gonçalves, Vanessa R. Invernón, Florian Jabbour, Elodie Lerat, Porter P. Lowry II, Bérangère Offroy, Eva Pérez Pimparé, Odile Poncy, Germinal Rouhan, Thomas Haevermans (2016). The French Muséum national d'histoire naturelle vascular plant herbarium collection dataset. Scientific Data.
 
The National Museum of Natural History, CNRS and UPMC are members of Sorbonne Universities.
 

History of the renovation of the MNHN herbarium told in a web-series entitled "Herbarium 2.0", visible on the website www.webdoc-herbier.com

 
 

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