Caring about the future

Recovering the past, recording the present, and preparing the future of zoological collections in Portugal.
Coordinator - Cristiane Bastos-Silveira
Execution dates - 2008-01-01 - 2011-03-31 (39 Months)
Funding Entity - FCT- Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology
Funding for CESAM - 138000 €
Total Funding - 138000 €
Proponent Institution - Universidade de Lisboa
Participating Institutions
Universidade de Aveiro

Project Description

Natural history collections are an important source of information about Earth’s extant and extinct organisms, and constitute valuable foundations for research on some of the fundamental phenomena of biological science. Once part of a collection, organisms become specimens that are identified as belonging to a group, a location and a particular time. However, in a changing world the safekeeping of specimens and the type of information collected from them constantly become more rigorous and demanding. The geographic location can now be exact as GPS data. Older specimens, can be subject of molecular genetic studies and a potential source for application of the new species identification concept, the “DNA barcode”, through the use of mitochondrial cytochrome c oxidase I (COI) gene sequences. So, to a large extent, the value of the collections depends on a continuous update and maintenance as new technologies or viewpoints emerge and the institutions caring for these collections are challenged to respond to these advances. Simultaneously, as the world’s biodiversity becomes endangered, the importance of using, developing and preserving natural history collections increases, as does the need to promote the public’s awareness on the importance of biodiversity and the implications of its loss. The techniques for collecting, banking, and using biomaterials for effective conservation have increased enormously. Species identification using genetic techniques can be used forensically to uncover illegal traffic of parts and products from endangered animals or plants, and museums play a key role in this process. So, the greatest overall challenge for natural history museums is to face their nature of constantly evolving entity, home to a heady mixture of sciences, all in the context of growing public interest and a need for new modes of public access. As the technologies of communication have become increasingly accessible, it is now an utmost responsibility of all collection holders, to give full access to the information contained in their collections through the Internet, using international initiatives such as the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF). To promote and address the interest of both the general and the specialized public and to develop and implement new modes of data access, the National Museum of Natural History/Museum Bocage and a team of specialists will join in a multidisciplinary enterprise to uncover the Portuguese zoological collections heritage by converting the existing data into the digital and molecular era. To achieve these goals we propose to: 1) survey institutions holding zoological collections of species from former Portuguese territories in South America, Africa and Asia; 2) survey institutions holding collections of terrestrial vertebrate species listed in the Portuguese Red Data Book; 3) digitise the information from those collections adopting standards fully compatible with those required by the GBIF; 4) implement a bank of biological material from terrestrial vertebrate species listed in the Portuguese Red Data Book; and 5) obtain genetic data from those species and contribute to the International DNA Barcode Initiative (CBOL). The identification of the target collections (goals 1, 2 and 3) will be made through online and hard copy questionnaires. The bank of biological material (goal 4) will be composed by the tissue collection of the Museum Bocage, which will be complemented with exchanges among the participating institutions, and other institutional partnerships. Mitochondrial DNA sequences (goal 5) will be generated and incorporated into the Barcode of Life Data System (BOLD). Access to the generated data through a search engine will be made available with different levels of detail according to the target public and Institutional policies. With the development of this project we expect to uncover the richness of the Portuguese zoological collections heritage; contribute to the qualification, organisation and diffusion of these data; and create a national bank of biological material from which the biomaterials and associated information, will be of great relevance to the fields of ecology, genetics, taxonomy, wildlife management, forensics and law enforcement. Moreover, we intend to transfer the established know-how to other national important collections, contributing to the knowledge of the Portuguese natural heritage.


CESAM members on this project

Principal Investigator
Deodália Dias
Research Member
José Pedro Granadeiro
Researcher Member

Researcher Member
Maria da Luz Mathias
Researcher Member

CESAM Funding: UIDP/50017/2020 + UIDB/50017/2020 + LA/P/0094/2020


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