The French herbarium network consists of national, university, municipal and community-based institutions which use a shared tool to digitise their collections - the Sonnerat/BryoMyco database. It is the result of merging Sonnerat dedicated to vascular plants (which was named in honour of botanist Pierre Sonnerat) and BryoMyco dedicated to non-vascular cryptograms and fungi.
Management of dry plant collections
The management of dry plant collections is consistent with unwritten international practice created in the late 18th century. It is based on the distribution of specimens in the herbariums. So taxonomists have sent and continue to send their plants to a large number of establishments. The term "double" established through use is perhaps a misnomer. Instead it would be better to talk about supplementary material, coming from the same individual (or from the same station in the case of herbaceous plants).
It is appropriate to compare this with the current system used in libraries. Bibliographic notes are enriched by the pool of libraries working on digitising their catalogues. A note can be used to "exemplarise" a work present in several libraries. Therefore, like books from the same edition, specimens from the same "harvest" have lots of data in common, such as the collector, the date they were collected, the location, ecological descriptions, etc.
As a result of this practice, all the samples have a common history. By digitising the Paris or Nancy herbarium, for example, the scientific community has access to collection data concerning a large number of collections.
Number of specimens
The index herbariorum which lists the world’s herbariums, acknowledges 23 million specimens in the French collections. This number most probably does not reflect reality as the index is far from complete. The inventory of the herbariums in the Rhône-Alpes region painstakingly prepared by Andrine Faure shows that in fact just 4% of the herbariums appear in this index. However, it does indeed list the "big collections".
Furthermore, several inventory projects for collections in the regions are underway. Special mention should be made of those coordinated by the Tela Botanica association for the Languedoc-Roussillon region and by the Aix-en-Provence Muséum for the PACA region.
Digitisation is a long-winded affair
One highly-trained technician can enter around 80 specimens a day into the database. It is therefore easy to understand the importance of setting up procedures as soon as possible to increase the input speed. The pooling of resources is naturally part of this.
Demonstration of material pooled between the institutions
Example of Campanulaceae
The Campanulaceae family was chosen to test the collections pooled between Paris and Nancy. 12% of the collected specimens are common to both collections. This is by no means insignificant.
Advantages of pooling resources
The SONNERAT database under ORACLE and the JACIM interface which enables it to be used are the result of regular discussions and work sessions between computer scientists and botanists. This has given us a tool which, even though it is not perfect, is suitable (botanists’ experience) and able to be upgraded (technology intelligence from computer scientists). Furthermore, the back-up procedures implemented by the DSI (the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle IT Services Department) (including off-site storage) enable the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle to ensure that data is backed up. Although the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle makes its IT resources available to the network, the resources being developed by other partners are naturally welcome.
Functioning and development of the network
The network functions on the basis of a series of bipartite agreements between the Muséum and each of the institutions managing a herbarium. The data entered remains the property of the institution which entered it, except for the data to be shared among several institutions, such as joint collections, plant names, etc.
The body which sets out the guidelines is a steering committee made up of one representative of each partner. Membership applications should be sent to Marc Pignal (firstname.lastname@example.org).
The committee is an open area for discussions where participants report on the progress of their projects and outline their wishes for developing the database. In 2008, the network extended to our colleagues in Morocco: the scientific institute of the Mohamed V University of Rabat.
To find out more about SUDOC: Wikipedia article
Faure A., Bange C., Barale G., Danet F., Dutartre G., Fayard A., Guignard G., Pautz F., Poncet V. & Ronot P., 2006a - Herbiers de la Région Rhône-Alpes (Herbariums of the Rhone-Alps region) Part 1: Report. Lyon Botanical Garden. 88 p., 28 fig.
Faure A., Bange C., Barale G., Danet F., Dutartre G., Fayard A., Guignard G., Pautz F., Poncet V. & Ronot P., 2006b - Herbiers de la Région Rhône-Alpes (Herbariums of the Rhone-Alps region) Part 2: Catalogue. Lyon Botanical Garden. 348 p.
For further details of the institutions in the e-ReColNat network, please visit the French section of the website.