National Network of Natural History Collections, RECOLNAT
There are currently around 120 million objects kept in French national natural history collections, which amounts to nearly 5% of all collections in the world. These biodiversity and geodiversity archives today form a priceless heritage and are undeniable assets for present and future scientific research.
Management of dried plant collections
The RECOLNAT infrastructure serves to bring together all those in charge of the conservation and study of natural history collections in France. Through its activities, it aims to link up the disparate groups and skills spread across the country, and promote with a strong voice the natural history collections and the benefits they bring to research.
The Réseau national des collections naturalistes (RECOLNAT) is a research infrastructure (RI) whose scope covers all the natural history collections, and which endeavours to ensure that the best use is made of these collections in research. RECOLNAT has been on the research infrastructure roadmap of the Ministry of Research since 2016.
The roots of RECOLNAT can be found in the Réseau des herbiers de France (French Herbarium Network) and it was formally initiated in 2013 through the Investments for the Future programme e-ReColNat (ANR-11-INBS-0004). Its overall mission is to produce, mobilize support for, gather together, harmonise and provide access to French natural history collections and their ancillary data. The aim is to offer the scientific community high quality, interoperable natural history data, at the right scale and in the right format, to respond to the pressing environmental and societal issues of today.
The objects in these collections are conserved and studied in more than one hundred public and private, research, heritage and educational establishments. The dual issue of the threats posed to biodiversity and the gaps in our knowledge on the subject have led to a revival in interest in the enormous stores of under-used information to be found in natural history objects. These collections have two basic roles: the first is the traditional one of providing reference objects to describe and study the living and inert world, and the second is the contribution they make to a vast campaign of diachronic observations accumulated over time. All of these objects and archives constitute a huge store of scientific knowledge waiting to be tapped into.
The infrastructure offers a portal giving access to nearly 11 million images and their ancillary data from more than 80 institutions in mainland and overseas France. This corpus of data is also enriched by the participative science programme Les herbonautes, whose community of more than 4,000 contributors produces datasets for selected research projects. The infrastructure also provides online tools for researchers working on digital duplicates of the collections.
The infrastructure also helps to bring together those responsible for the conservation and study of these collections in France. Its aim is to connect the disparate groups and skills spread across the country, and to loudly promote the natural history collections as tools for science and culture.
Since 2020, the Réseau national des collections naturalistes has consolidated its foundation and scope, with the aim of structuring the natural history communities in France. Created as a scientific interest group (SIG), RECOLNAT aims to build a network of scientific excellence by connecting professionals and streamlining practices related to natural history collections. Museums, universities and research institutions work together to offer increased and privileged access to natural history collections and their data. In this regard, RECOLNAT adheres to the open data policy and FAIR principles (Findability, Accessibility, Interoperability, and Reusability). Led by the Muséum national d’Histoire Naturelle, RECOLNAT is also the French nodal point of the counterpart European infrastructure DiSSCo (Distributed System of Scientific Collections).