Echinoderms are exclusively marine animals and can be found at all depths from the shore to the abyss and at all latitudes. Echinoderms are unusual animals as they develop an internal skeleton made of calcite plates and display a pentaradiate symmetry (order 5). Well known representatives include sea urchins and starfish.
The Muséum’s Echinoderm collection is mainly intended for scientific use but is also used in exhibitions and teaching. Samples are preserved as dry specimens or preserved in ethanol. Some sea cucumbers (Holothuroidea) have been dissected and ossicles mounted on microscope slides (around 5,000 slides). The total number of samples is estimated around 500,000, of which 0.4% are types. Samples come from all the world oceans, and all latitudes. A lot of specimens come from the Indo-West Pacific region and from the Southern Ocean.
Specimens are registered under two systems, one paper file that contains older specimens and an in house database. A special effort to digitise types and newly aquired samples has been engaged years ago, and more recently older collections have started to be digitised as well. Each record, either on paper or in the database, contains at least the genus and species names, as well as the author, catalog number, date and location of collection event, and sometimes also the original publication. A specialised library is dedicated to echinoderms publications and is accessible to researchers. This library is the result of efforts from succeeding curators to constitute a valuable tool for research.
Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck was one of the first to seriously contribute to the Echinoderm collection. One of the oldest specimens is a stalked crinoid, identified by Guettard in 1761. The main scientists who took part in building this collection are Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck, Blainville, Alcide d’Orbigny, Herouard, Koehler, Perrier, Valenciennes and more recently G. Cherbonnier, who breathed new life into this collection.
The main explorers involved were Cotteau, Quoy and Gaimart, Lesueur and Péron, and Wyville-Thomson. This collection is today visited and value has been added to it along the years thanks to their expertise. Recent oceanographic campaigns (from 1960 to the present day) among which Tropical Deep Sea Benthos and in the Southern Ocean have considerably contributed to expand the collection, to the point that it has become one major echinoderm collection in the world in terms of diversity and quantity.
The collection’s main research areas are systematics (morphology, genetics and ontogeny), as well as ecology, biogeography and phylobiogeography. The Echinoidea have been used for pollution studies. Some echinoderms are also used in biomedical studies.
The collection is constantly expanding all the time and the main acquisitions come from French and foreign oceanographic campaigns. The collection is also involved in collaborations: IRD, TAAF (Terres australes antarctiques françaises), AAD (Australian Antarctic Division), AWI (Alfred Wegener Institute), BAS (British Antarctic Survey) and Ifremer in particular.
Many scientists from all over the world come to visit the collection. Of particular note are the starfish (Asteroidea) and brittle star (Ophiuroidea) collections that have benefited from the expertise of the best taxonomists in activity (Christopher Mah and Timothy O’Hara) and are now probably the most important collections worldwide for these groups. Loans are also made to various foreign Muséums and major foreign institutions.
Marc Eléaume, Head of the Echinoderm Collection
marc.eleaume [@] mnhn.fr