7. Ex-situ collections
Although the Convention on Biological Diversity evidently underlines the
prime need for in-situ conservation of biological diversity (art. 8),
it equally recognizes the important role of ex-situ conservation of
components of biological diversity and genetic resources (art. 9). These
collections of living and/or dead specimens cover a wide range of biotics,
from micro-organisms to animals and plants, including both endemic and
non-endemic species. Unavoidably, only some of the main collections have been
touched upon in this synoptical report. It is anticipated however that future
publications (e.g. country study) will be more complete.
The Belgian Federal Office for Scientific, Technical and Cultural Affairs
(OSTC) has, since 1983, been financing the Belgian Co-ordinated Collections of
Micro-organisms (BCCMtm), a consortium of four complementary culture
collections at the service of the scientific and the industrial communities.
This consortium holds circa 18,000 bacterial strains, 31,000 filamentous fungi
or yeast strains and 1,650 plasmids (as pure DNA), as well as some 10 cDNA
libraries. The preserved patrimonia of bacteria and filamentous or yeast-like
fungi are among the top five on a world-wide scale. Both printed and
electronic catalogues (http://www.belspo.be/bccm)
Fig. 7.1. - The
spectacular macroscopic development of one of the 28,600 fungal
BCCMtm-cultures (Isaria sp.).
BCCMtm/IHEM at Brussels holds 5,500 strains, representing 327 genera and
962 species of filamentous and yeast-like fungi of public health and related
BCCMtm/MUCL at Louvain-La-Neuve holds over 25,500 strains representing
1,018 genera and 3,421 species of filamentous and yeast-like fungi of all
major taxonomical groups, mainly of biotechnological or (agro)industrial
importance. The herbarium counts over 39,500 species.
BCCMtm/LMG at Ghent holds over 18,000 strains representing 249 genera and
1,348 species of bacteria encompassing plant-associated and phytopathogenic
bacteria, bacteria of medical and veterinary importance, marine bacteria and
various groups of biotechnological importance.
BCCMtm/LMBP at Ghent holds over 1,650 plasmids and 10 cDNA libraries
derived from a variety of organisms.
The BCCM collections are registered at the World Data Centre, and have from
1992 onwards, as a consortium, the status of International Depository
Authority (IDA) in the framework of the international patent legislation
(Budapest Treaty, World Intellectual Property Organisation). Moreover, they
have as of 1996 the MIRCEN-status (UNESCO) and are since long active members
of the World Federation for Culture Collections (WFCC) and of the European
Culture Collections Organisation (ECCO).
The BCCM is setting up a programme for technology transfer and capacity
building in the spirit of the Convention on Biological Diversity; and is co-ordinating
the international MOSAICC-project (Micro-organisms Sustainable Use, Access
Regulation and International Code of Conduct), financed by the Commission of
the European Union (CEU).
Those major service culture collections are complemented by many smaller
and bigger research culture collections that are hosted in a large variety of
research institutions. The algae's collections of the University of Liège and
the microbial collections of the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp
(ITM) are good examples of such collections. As such, the fungus/yeast
collection of ITM, known as RV-collection (Raymond Vanbreuseghem), contains
11,500 cultures of medical interest from all over the world, including the
largest collection of Cryptococcus neoformans in the world. It has
recently been transferred to the Scientific Institute for Public Health -
Louis Pasteur (IPH), holding yet the BCCMtm/IHEM-collection.
Fig. 7.2. - View on
the Herbetum, a systematic garden of temperate herbaceous plants; in the
background the "BALAT Greenhouse", designed by Alphonso BALAT, the
architect of the Royal Greenhouses at Laken.
7.3. Botanical collections
The National Botanic Garden of Belgium (NBGB) maintains, since a long time,
a vast collection of living plants. Some 18,000 taxa, representing 36,000
introductions, are cultivated in greenhouses or in the open-air. The
greenhouses hold 10,000 plants of tropical and subtropical regions. The gene
bank of wild Phaseolineae is recognised as a base collection by the
International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI). As to its holdings of
living plants, the NBGB belongs to the top 7 of botanic gardens of the world.
The herbarium, being in the top 25 on a world-wide basis, holds 2.5 million
specimens, with very important collections from Central and Tropical Africa.
These collections cover phanerogamic and cryptogamic plants as well as fungi.
The NBGB participates actively in seed exchange schemes. Since quite some
years, scientific programmes are developed related to e.g. in vitro
culturing, seed banking of native wild plants as well as educational
Besides the NBGB, a panoply of larger and smaller botanic gardens and parks,
some related to the main universities, others to the private sector, is
established in Belgium. The research stations of the Federal Ministry of
Agriculture in Gent and Gembloux have major collections of grasses, fodder
plants, vegetables, chicorea, fruit trees and conifers. A special reference
has also to be made to the so-called International Network for the Improvement
of Banana and Plantain (INIBAP) Transit Centre, hosted by the Catholic
University of Leuven; and to the poplar variety collections (some 140
genotypes of Populus nigra, some 1,000 genotypes of Populus
deltoides, and more than 2,000 genotypes of Populus trichocarpa)
held by the Flemish Institute for Forestry and Game Management and the Walloon
Forestry Research station.
The Royal Museum for Central Africa (RMCA) houses an important collection
of hard wood samples (xylarium) from world-wide tropical and subtropical areas
totalizing more than 56,000 samples and more than 13,000 recent species
together with many fossil and prehistoric wood samples; the Museum also has an
important collection of pollen on mounted slides, as well for recent as
prehistoric species and samples.
7.4. Zoological collections
The largest collections of dead animal specimens are held by the Royal
Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (RBINS) and the Royal Museum for Central
Parts of the collections of the RBINS go back to the middle of the 18th
century. In the second half of the 19th century the collections grew rapidly
through the acquisition of large quantities of fossils. The most important of
these are the remnants of Tertiary faunas exhumed during the construction of
the military forts around Antwerp, and the Cretaceous skeletons discovered in
a coal mine in the village of Bernissart. At the beginning of the 20th century
the collections grew further through the addition of material from faunistic
surveys of the national territory and the southern North Sea. Subsequently,
huge numbers of specimens were acquired as a result of expeditions to
Indonesia, Central and Western Africa, Amazonia and more recently to Papua New
Guinea, Antarctica, Gulf of Mexico, Lake Baikal, etc. Consequently the RBINS
currently houses a diverse and exceptionally rich zoological (inclus.
paleontological) collection completed by a large number of prehistoric items
and an exceptionally diverse mineral collection, the grand total of which is
in the order of +36,000,000 specimens or items. This undoubtedly ranks the
Institute within the top ten of the world. Some specialized collections rank
even higher e.g. the cetacean collection and the mollusc collection. The
latter includes some 9,000,000 specimens representing more than 45,000 species
and is to be ranked in the top five world-wide. Other important collections
are the insect collection, estimated at a 12,000,000 specimens and the
vertebrate collection exceeding 1,000,000 specimens. The latter includes
important numbers of freshwater fishes from Africa and South America, a rich
collection of European birds and bird's eggs and a collection of extinct birds
and mammals e.g. a complete skeleton of a dodo (Raphus cucullatus) and
one of the two known specimens of warrah (Dusicyon australis).
From 1991 onward a frozen tissue collection of vertebrates and
invertebrates is being built up for molecular research.
Fig. 7.3. - Part of
the wet zoological collection of the Royal Belgian Insittute of Natural
The collections of the RMCA contain 1,000,000 vertebrate specimens,
corresponding to ca. 6,000 species, including a very large and therefore
unique collection of the pygmy chimp (Pan paniscus), the common chimp (Pan
troglodytes) and the gorilla, both mountain (Gorilla gorilla berengei)
and lowland gorilla (G. g. gorilla). Furthermore these collections
include more than 500,000 African freshwater fishes (the largest and most
important collection in the world for that group), and more than 80,000
African rodents, also a unique collection. The collections hold 16,000,000
invertebrate specimens (mostly insects), belonging to ca. 120,000 species.
With more than 13,000,000 African insects these collections are among the most
important in the world. The African spider collection (250,000 species) is
also among the world's most important. The Museum also houses a collection of
200,000 fossil samples from Africa.
Fig. 7.4. - Goliath
beetles (Goliath goliathus) stores in a hermetic box (Royal Museum for
Besides the collections in these major institutes, several major zoological
collections (some with specimens of historical importance too) are held in
Fig. 7.5. - Young and
female okapi (Okapia johnstoni), Antwerp Zoo, Royal Society of Antwerp.
Belgium counts seven main public and private zoos, belonging to and
complying with the rules of the European Association of Zoo Associations (EAZA).
The Royal Zoological Society of Antwerp (RZSA), often referred to as the
National Zoo, held in 1996 more than 6,000 living vertebrates, representing ca.
800 species. The RSZA participates in the European Endangered Species
Programme (EEP) and the Species Survival Programme (SSP), and keeps the
international studbooks of the okapi (Okapia johnstoni), the bonobo (Pan
paniscus), the golden-headed lion tamarin (Leontopithecus chrysomelas)
and the Congo peafowl (Afropavo congensis) and also the European
studbook of the Mexican military macaw (Ara militaris mexicana). The
RZSA further participates in numerous breeding programmes with partners from
all over the world and is involved in many veterinary, ethological and
socio-ecological research projects.
Besides the zoos, one could further mention the Aquarium of the University
of Liège, involved in ethological and ecological research on marine
vertebrates, holding some 250 taxa of which about 15 are bred as a measure to
counteract in-situ capture.
J. De Brabandere
Federal Office for Scientific, Technical and Cultural Affairs