First National Report of Belgium
to the Convention on Biological Diversity


7. Ex-situ collections

7.1. Introduction

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.

7.2. Micro-organisms

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 ( are available.

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 environmental interest.

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 programmes.

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 Africa (RMCA).

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 Sciences.

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 Central Africa)

Besides the collections in these major institutes, several major zoological collections (some with specimens of historical importance too) are held in universities.

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
Wetenschapsstraat 8
1000 Brussels

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