The DiSSCo consortium in
The goal of DiSSCo Belgium is to apply best practice management in conservation of both physical and digital collections in order to increase their visibility and usage. DiSSCo Belgium aims to mobilise further the collection holding institutions in Belgium and to have a complete inventory of Natural Heritage Collections. In order to do that, DiSSCo Belgium enhances the collaborations between the collections which derive their supporting resources from the various governmental entities (regions, communities, federal government). Individual institutions take into account the ESFRI procedures applicable to their situation.
DiSSCo Belgium is composed of:
- Two major Federal Scientific Institutes: the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (RBINS) and the Royal Museum for Central Africa. The two institutions harbour the largest Belgian natural history collections and have a long-standing, established and structural collaboration in the digitisation of their collections, sharing technical platforms, database systems and staff. The RBINS representative acts currently as DISSCo Belgium National Task Force Manager.
- DiSSCo Flanders is an officially established consortium with currently 4 partners: Meise Botanic Garden (promoter), Research Institute for Nature and Forest (INBO), Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ) and Royal Zoological Society of Antwerp (KMDA). The goal is to increase membership and mobilisation of collections kept in Flanders. Collaboration can be engaged anytime, however to become an official DiSSCo Flanders partner, new members have to follow the Flemish legal framework (IRI call by FWO) and join the proposal of the coordinator and current members when it is due. More info at: https://www.fwo.be/en/fellowships-funding/research-infrastructure/international-research-infrastructure/
- At DiSSCo Wallonia-Brussels Federation (FWB) the institutions currently involved are the ‘Direction du Jardin botanique de Meise’ depending from the Service Général de l’Enseignement supérieur et de la Recherche scientifique of the FWB, the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) and the Université de Namur (UNamur).
- There are currently no DiSSCo members which derive their resources from the Walloon Region (RW). Discussions are ongoing between relevant institutions with a view to inclusion.
Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences
The Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (RBINS) houses exceptionally rich and diverse zoological, palaeoanthropological, mineralogical and prehistoric collections amounting to 38,000,000 specimens – this includes 200,000 types and illustrated specimens, and 100,000 primary types. This places RBINS in the world top 10 collections in terms of volume of specimens stored and available for research. RBINS is also undertaking an ambitious digitisation programme.
Staff at RBINS have developed several pipelines allowing high resolution digitisation of specimens and associated documentation which has made it possible to encode all the data on collections of any taxonomic group. 595,000 digitised specimens are now reported on GBIF. RBINS is a multidisciplinary institution with scientific staff specialising in biology, palaeontology, geology, oceanography, anthropology, prehistory, archaeobiology, geography, physics, bio-engineering and mathematics. 74 staff members are dedicated fully to the collections with worldwide coverage and including terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems. The institution is internationally renowned for collections management training in addition to other disciplines, and is currently supervising 64 PhD and 52 MSc students. The RBINS Laboratory for Molecular Systematics (LMS) is fully equipped providing a dynamic working environment for researchers using various DNA markers for molecular research.
Royal Museum for Central Africa
The Royal Museum for Central Africa (RMCA) is a multidisciplinary institution focusing on natural and cultural heritage, knowledge transfer, and research. It holds one of the largest world collections on Central Africa, offering unique reference material. The majority of specimens originate from a relatively poorly studied megadiversity belt in the equatorial region of Africa. The Biology and Geology departments contain around 10 million animal specimens, 60,000 wood specimens, 16,000 minerals, 300,000 rocks, and 21,500 fossils. Extensive archives include field notes, books, maps and aerial photography containing valuable complementary information.
Researchers carry out studies in the natural and urban environments, including historical socio-economic aspects. The main facilities are a DNA lab for pre-processing sequencing, genotyping, a wood anatomy laboratory, photo stacking and 3D digitisation systems, a scanning electron Microscope, a geological thin section laboratory, an extensive cartography library, remote sensing equipment and advanced spectroscopy facilities.
Meise Botanic Garden
Meise Botanic Garden (MeiseBG): Besides acting as coordinator for Flanders and being the relay for FWB and RW, the institution contributes with their knowhow in both physical and digital collection management. Meise BG hosts about 4 million preserved collections items among which about 3.5 million herbarium sheets and 500 000 fungi collections including lichens. The outdoor (92 ha) and indoor living collections comprise over 25000 accessions including important crop wild relatives from coffee and bananas with high economical importance. The seed bank of the Garden conserves more than 6600 accessions notably of endangered Belgian flora, the endemics of the Copper Hills in Katanga, and a unique collections of wild beans and bananas. There are close to 10 000 DNA extracts stored in relation to our molecular activities. MeiseBG is busy mass digitizing its entire preserved collection of herbarium sheets which progress can be consulted here. The public can contribute to mobilise more data about our collections via our crowdsourcing platform. MeiseBG staff is expert in Biodiversity Information Standards and active member of TDWG.
Research Institute for Nature and Forest
The Research Institute for Nature and Forest (INBO) is the Flemish research and knowledge centre for nature and its sustainable management and use. INBO conducts research and supplies knowledge to all those who prepare or make the policies or are interested in them as a stakeholder. Through its scientific research, INBO supports all agencies dealing with open space in the Flemish government, as well as in organisations involved in nature conservation, forestry, agriculture, hunting and fishery. INBO publishes its results as open data and provides data for international reporting. It participates in (inter)national research networks such as LTER, ALTER-Net, LifeWatch. INBO will notably act as liaison between biodiversity field and collection data. Furthermore INBO houses a collection of trees and shrubs from Belgium and a soil collection that will enrich the Earth Science collections within DiSSCo. Staff members of INBO are very skilled in Biodiversity Informatics and part of the Belgium Biodiversity Platform acting as the countries GBIF node.
Flanders Marine Institute
The Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ) promotes accumulation of marine knowledge and excellence in marine research in Flanders. The marine research areas are the ocean and seas, the coast and the tidal systems. The target groups for knowledge accumulation are the marine research community as well as educational institutions, the general public, policymakers and the industry (within the scope of the blue economy). Several ongoing activities at VLIZ are highly relevant to DiSSCo. VLIZ as member of the LifeWatch ESFRI is both the regional contributor with activities related to the observatories and data archaeology, and responsible for the development of the Species Information Backbone. This Backbone contains a lot more info then purely taxonomic information, and gives access to a range of species information, including species traits, distribution, habitat information, links and direct access to literature and deep-links with genetic databases such as e.g. GBIF, GenBank and BoLD. Interlinking such data with the data of collections will broaden research applications and potential of the collections.
Linked to the LifeWatch Marine Observatory, VLIZ is developing several collections. Planktonic and benthic samples and specific filters for DNA sequencing are being stored as part of a sample library for later reference and re-use. Selected samples are digitized using imaging devices (Zooscan, Flowcam, etc.) and annotated with crucial metadata and environmental information. In addition, VLIZ is compiling a digital specimen collection for all species present in the Belgian part of the North Sea.
Both at the national and international level, VLIZ will ensure synergies between activities of DiSSCo and LifeWatch infrastructures.
Royal Zoological Society of Antwerp
Royal Zoological Society of Antwerp (KDMA): The KMDA was established in 1843 as an association and has four brands under its wing: Antwerp ZOO, Planckendael, Serpentarium and the Koningin Elisabethzaal. In addition, the KMDA manages the De Zegge nature reserve in Geel. With more than 2 million visitors a year, the KMDA is the biggest actor amongst Belgium’s tourist attractions; it also plays a leading role on the world stage in terms of scientific research and conservation. In DiSSCo the Society will play an important role in terms of zoological living collections. They harbour also an arboretum and host genetic, tissues and cell collections. Furthermore they play an important role as link with the European Association of Zoos and Aquariums (EAZA). Their experience with the data management systems used in this domain will be very valuable for the implementation of DiSSCo.
Université libre de Bruxelles
Université libre de Bruxelles (Free University of Brussels, ULB) is a French-speaking private research university in Brussels. Its foundation goes back to 1834. Currently there are about 3600 researchers and 2000 PhD students active in the ULB. It currently participates in DiSSCo with is herbarium which houses 250,000 specimens, including about 600 type specimens. The core of the collection is about vascular plants from Central Africa, notably from Katanga with the flora from metal rich soils, the flora of Atlantic equatorial Africa. Highlights are about 6000 Orchids from tropical Africa including tissue samples for DNA extractions for about 5000 specimens. The University also plays an important role in capacity building with for example the ERASMUS Mundus Master in Tropical Biodiversity and Ecosystems TROPIMUNDO. Besides the herbarium, the ULB also harbors other scientific collections. In the framework of DiSSCo a detailed inventory will be made with prioritisation for conservation, digitisation, publication and re-use.
Université de Namur
The University of Namur (UNamur), founded in 1831 in Namur, is a Jesuit, Catholic private university in the French Community of Belgium. Both teaching and research are carried out. The main campus is located at the heart of the city of Namur, the capital of Wallonia. The university employs more than 1000 researchers with about 6500 students a year. UNamur currently participates in DiSSCo with its herbarium of about 70 000 specimens of Phanerogams, Pteridophytes and Bryophytes. It is a small but very valuable, historical herbarium and the most complete and well-preserved collection of Brendel botanical models are among the highlights. Since 2018 the collection is hosted within the Library of the University where it has become accessible not only for research but also for outreach and capacity building. UNamur hosts also other important scientific collections, which will be inventorised and addressed in the framework of DiSSCo.
Participating institutions in
The different Belgian governmental authorities have funding mechanisms to which the DiSSCo consortium or the different partners may apply.
For the federal institutions: Support is provided through various funding mechanisms via structural funds or calls mainly via the Belgian Science Policy Office BELSPO (e.g. the “DIGIT” federal digitisation programme, the “Natural Heritage” BRAIN project or the granted one shot funding called “DiSSCo Fed” project). Open calls are published here.
For the Flemish institutions, the second phase of the digitisation program DOE (1.5 Mio Euro) is currently ongoing. This is structural funding provided by the Flemish government via the department of Economy, Research and Innovation (EWI) to mass-digitise the entire herbarium collection of the Meise BG. The Flemish Research Funds (FWO) has specific infrastructure calls linked to the ESFRI Roadmap every 2 years. Their calls govern how infrastructures are supported and financed in Flanders. New partners can join an adopted infrastructure such as DiSSCo by being part of an application submitted by the Coordinator. Additionally there are other calls for proposals at the FWO that can further support activities around DiSSCo.
For the Federation Wallonia-Brussels, structural funding is appointed to the different ESFRIs via a supporting letter produced by the higher management of the collection holding institutions to present an action plan and budget by the acting coordinator to the government together with the FWB members current and future representatives. An multi-annual budget is attributed to the Infrastructures retained. Furthermore, the partners can apply for additional funds at the FNRS: the French Speaking part of Belgium Research Funds.
In the Walloon Region, structural funds are appointed to the ESFRIs via supporting letters produced by the higher management of the collection holding institutions with a presentation to the representative in charge, similarly to the plan explained for the FWB. Research here falls under the DG06 for Research and Technologies. Walloon actors may apply to various additional funding mechanisms, notably via the different Competitiveness clusters in place. Wallonia has quite some opportunities in terms of public-private partnerships or creation of Spin-Offs:
Rediscovery of giant needleleaf in Belgium due to a 152 year old herbarium specimen
Since March 2018 the Belgian herbarium of Meise Botanic Garden has been digitized and is now open to public consultation. Botanists, both professionals and passionate amateurs, find their way to this digital herbarium collection. As did Annelies Jacobs from Natuurpunt (a nature organisation in Flanders).
An herbarium specimen from giant needleleaf (Polycnemum majus) from the herbarium of G. Dens, collected on 4 September 1866, caught her attention. This species had been considered extinct in Belgium since 1946. The herbarium label contained more information. The specimen was collected by François Crépin, a specialist on the Belgian flora and the former director of the Botanic Garden. The accurate site description was also mentioned: “Côteaux schisteux. Rochefort, au lieu-dit le Tige.” (Schist hillside. Rochefort, at the place called le Tige). She explored the site where the plant was collected with Steven Jacobs and surprisingly discovered a relict population of this species, after more than 150 years!
The rediscovery of this species, due to the digital herbarium in combination with using the citizen sciences tool DOEDAT, shows the importance of an herbarium as reference collection for historical data. The label information can disclose the historical and sometimes also the current location of species.
More information: Dumortiera 114
Further success stories are posted regularly here.
Everything on one screen
The dashboard you can see below contains data on the collections of natural science institutions across Europe. Page one shows the approximate number of collections per category for all of the 89 institutes who participated in an initial DiSSCo survey and page two the national contributions to the European collection. The selection boxes allow filtering for country and institutions. The data in this dashboard is populated with information as sent by the DiSSCo partners through an initial survey in November 2017 and should therefore be considered as preliminary. Following that survey, we went through a rigorous process of identifying obvious errors and contacting individuals to correct those. Nevertheless it will probably still contain some errors and information might be outdated. Please contact Niels Raes if you detect any issues so the data can be updated.
If you would like to see a full screen version of the dashboard, please click here.