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The project

Digitalisation of plant reference collections of the Central African ecosystems

African landscape The “portal” is the result of the digitalisation of reference collections of plant material from Central Africa (DR Congo, Rwanda and Burundi). Digitizing specimen information is the first crucial step in the realisation of a widely accessible ‘working list of known plant species’ for this region and is an important tool for repatriation of knowledge to the countries of origin. In this first stage, we focussed on three families: Rubiaceae, Balsaminaceae and Orchidaceae. The three families account for more than 10% of the plant diversity of Central Africa and represent a high scientific and economic value.

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Why digitalizing plant reference collections from Central Africa ?

NBGB Herbarium in Meise Biological reference collections are the major tools necessary for basic investigations on and assessments of biodiversity (Hawksworth 1995). Nevertheless, their scientific value is often underestimated and consequently the scientific gold mine they enclose often remains underexploited. Plant voucher specimens, stored in herbaria around the world, are permanent, reliable and verifiable records of the presence of a species at a given time and place. Additionally, label data often provide detailed ecological information about the collections and hence about the species they represent. Consequently, the entire set of specimens from an area is a witness of the past and present biodiversity of this region.

The National Botanic Garden of Belgium (NBGB) is a leading institution to study the biodiversity of Central Africa as more than 500000 herbarium specimens from DR Congo, Rwanda and Burundi are stored in its herbarium. This means that about 85% of the specimens ever collected in these countries are represented by the original or a duplicate collection. Additional collections from Central Africa are stored in the herbarium of the Free University of Brussels.

The interest of NBGB in the flora of Central Africa is reflected in the fact that NBGB is the editor and publisher of ‘Flore d'Afrique Centrale (DR Congo, Rwanda, Burundi)’. This inventory and treatment of the biodiversity of the vascular plants in Central Africa is 60% complete, and is still progressing. The hard printed flora format that is currently used to deliver our plant knowledge of Central Africa is in many ways old-fashioned and economically unattractive. Indeed, many new methods to distribute biodiversity information are available that would make the information more accessible, more informative, and easier to up-date. A first crucial step towards a digital flora is the digitization of the biodiversity information captured in specimens. This project fits in the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation, more particularly, in the realisation of target 1 and 2, i.e. (1) the completion of an accessible working list of known plant species (as a step towards a world flora) and (2) a preliminary assessment of the their conservation status.

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Why Balsaminaceae, Orchidaceae, Rubiaceae ?

African fruit In this project only specimens of Rubiaceae, Balsaminaceae and Orchidaceae were digitized. These three families were chosen since they are actively investigated by scientists of NBGB. Moreover, these three families are very complementary because they represent various types of dissemination and life forms. Furthermore, Orchidaceae and Rubiaceae represent more than 10% of the taxa occurring in Central Africa and therefore, their digitization gives us a good idea of the entire diversity of Central Africa.

Rubiaceae is the fourth largest family of flowering plants with more than 620 genera and approximately 13,200 species (Govaerts et al. 2006; Robbrecht 1988). On the subsaharan side of the African continent, Rubiaceae are represented by about 1,900 species in 165 genera. Investigations in tropical rainforests considering all plant diversity often rank Rubiaceae as the largest family (Harris, 2002). The family is particularly well represented in the understorey of the rainforest.

Impatiens assurgens Balsaminaceae comprises two genera: the monospecific genus Hydrocera and the species-rich genus Impatiens. The total number of Impatiens species is estimated at 1000, with 118 species described from Africa (Janssens et al. 2009). They are annual or perennial herbs that exhibit a remarkable floral diversity. African Impatiens species favour a moist and rather shady environment and are usually found above 500 m.

Orchidaceae forms a large family of epiphytic or terrestrial perennial herbs. Its highest diversity is found in the tropics and subtropics. With over 800 described genera and between 20,000 to 30,000 species, Orchids are among the largest and most diverse of the flowering plant families. In Africa, about 3,000 species are recorded from 134 genera, among which c. 600 occur in Central Africa.

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Methods and standards used

Specimen picture For all central African taxa of Balsaminaceae, Orchidaceae and Rubiaceae, label information of representative specimens were digitalized in a relational database system (BGBASE). Identification were verified by specialists, in order to provide reliable data. The specimens databased were georeferenced by using an unpublished updated version of Bamps’ botanical gazetteer for Central Africa (Bamps 1982). For each taxon representative specimens were scanned (24 colour bit, 600 dpi) using an Epson Expression 10000XL™ & HerbScan™.

The collections that are digitized are stored at NBGB and to a lesser extent also at the Free University of Brussels. The material is generally in good condition, but some older specimens urgently need to be digitalized to ensure that the biological information they contain is preserved for future generations. Priority is given to the digitalisation of these more fragile specimens.

The nature of the data/information digitized :

The data standards to be adhered:

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Scientific collaborators :

Technical staff :

Don't hesitate to contact us if you have any question or remark about this website or the data provided.

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Many thanks to André Heughebaert and Nicolas Noé of BeBIF for their assistance and support in the development of actual website. The finalization of data input and actual development of the website was achieved through support provided by the Belgian Biodiversity Platform , an initiative of the Belgian Science Policy.

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Intellectual property rights

Collection specimens are the property of the respective institutions where they are deposited. All data associated with those particular specimens are therefore also property of those institutions. When information of a particular specimen is used, reference should be made to the herbarium where it is housed, by indicating the institution's name or acronym.

The photographs or drawings used in this website stay the property of the National Botanical Garden of Belgium, who has copyright on all these images.

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How to cite

Whenever information that is provided through this website, is used by third parties, reference should be made to the website for example by the following or similar phrasing: Stoffelen, Beau, Niyongabo, Wursten, Stévart, Geerinck, Muhongere & Dessein (2009). Digitalisation of Plant Reference Collections of the Central African Ecosystems, http://projects.biodiversity.be/brcap/. Access date : 08/12/2022.

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Although care was taken that the data incorporated in the database are correct, the proponents take no responsibility whatsoever with regard to the use of the data here by third parties. Persons retrieving information from this website for their own research or for applied aspects do so at their own risk.

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The Ruby language, Ruby on Rails framework, PostgreSQL database, Linux operating system and Zoomify image viewer among others where used to develop this website.

Some icons on this website are part of the Silk Icons Set, thanks to Mark James. They are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License.

Other icons are part of the Buuf Icons Set, also licensied under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License.

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