Faunal Resources In India: Natural History Museums

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History Museums

This is an extract from


Edited by

J. R. B. Alfred

A. K. Das

A. K. Sanyal.

ENVIS Centre,

Zoological Survey of India,



( J. R. B. Alfred was

Director, Zoological Survey of India)

Natural History Museums have long been recognised as the centres of systematics and biological research. Museum collections are also an important reference system of diversity. of living organisms, to be used as material for new evolutionary ideas (Minelli, 1993). Arnet and Samuelson (1986) estimates nearly 500 million insect specimens stored in public collections worldwide, he hlrther estimates the total number of specimens is arotmd three billion. Such an enormous number of specimens are stored in the global museums. The following are some of the major Natural History Museum present all over the world, having permanent voucher specimens corresponding to the published names of new taxa (types), as well as the general zoological specimens. The functions and utility of zoological museums are as follows : 1 Storehouse of zoological collections including type specimens. 2 Type specimens maintained is a link between the original description of a taxon and a real object so that the observation of the author can always be checked and revised for taxonomic research. 3 Serves as the fundamental resource for the identification of zoological specimens collected by way of comparison with the known taxa. Voucher and reference purposes (taxonomic identification by comparison, nomenclatural types, and research vouchers ensuring the replicability of research results). 4 The global biodiversity information is mostly based on the museum specimens, which form the baseline data on the diversity, distribution, abundance and variation. Supply of ecological data (label and ledger data, as well as site sampling can provide synecological information, water samples provide pollution data, etc.). 5 The variation noticed in the voucher specimens form the basis for further research in population biology studies. 6 Assists in teaching, research as well as adVisory services. 7 Museums aid in dipicting the past, present and gives guidelines for future research in the bio-geographical distribution. 8 Old museum collections are becoming increasingly usehJi for molecular studies le.g., mitochondrial DNA (Diamond, 1990)) i.e., the extraction of natural substances, DNA, as educational materials for university courses). 9 Museum specimens are also used to compare the lineage of several taxa.

10. Conservation of any group is not only based on the population studies but also on the past history of the organism in question; museum specimens add valuable tool in this direction.

11. Serves as a source for search for new genetic material for improvement of our cultivated'stock.

12. Biopotential and bioprospecting are the areas of research, mainly based on the museum material and field studies

13. Serves as the source material for investigation on anatomy, morphology, molecular biology, pharmacology and environmental impact assessments. Also forms research material for taxonomic investigations, molecular and genetic research, global change measurements in preserved materials, I'Ic.

14. Seed bank, gene bank and sperm banks are used in recent days to resurrect the extinct species in wild by using modem technology

15. Museum offers excellent facility for comparison of material with artefacts percolating in our lives as curios.

16. Exchange of information is possible based on the museum collections and catalogues thus prepared.

The institutes of biodiversity provide a highly valuable source of knowledge of the functions and evolutionary history of organisms, as variation and interaction of species constitute the basis for the ecosystem. The following are the list of a few Natural History Museums of the World, wherein the Type materials and other zoological reference collections are maintained.

1. Auckland Institute and Museum, New Zealand 2. American Museum of Natural History, New York, USA 3. Australian Museum, Sidney, Australia 4. Division of Entomology, CSIRO, Canberra, Australia 5. Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, Pensylvania, USA 6. Bernice p. Bishop Museum of Natural History, Honolulu, Hawai, USA 7. British Museum of Natural History, Cromwel road, London 8. Californian Academy of Sciences, San Fransisco, California, USA 9. Charles Darwin Research Station, Puerto Ayora, Ecuador 10. Canterbury Museum, Chrischurch, New Zealand 11. Cambridge University Museum of Zoology, London 12. Centro de Zoologia do Instituto de Investigacao Cientifica Tropical de Lisbon, Portugal

12. Departmento de Biologia, Universidad Autonoma, Madrid, Spain

13. Delaware Museum of Natural History, Wilmington, Delaware, USA

14. The Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, Illinois, USA

15. Florida Museum of Natural History, Gainesville, Florida, USA

16. Houston Museum of Natural Science, Houston, Texas, USA

17. Humboldt State University, Arcata, California, USA

18. Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel

19. Instituto de Ecologia y Systematica de la Habana, Havana, Cuba

20. Instituto de Investigacao Cientfica Tropical de Lisbon

21. Instituto de investigacao Tropical (Centre de Zoologia) Lisbon, Portugal

22. Institute of Malacology of Tokyo, Japan

23. Illinois Natual History Suvey, Champaign, Illinois, USA

24. Institute Royal de Sciences Turelles, Brussels, Belgium

25. Museum of Natural Sciences, Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Science, Brussels.

26. Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, USA

27. Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harward University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA

28. Museum d'historie Naturelle, Geneva, Switzerland

29. Museum National D'Histoire NatureIle, Paris

30. Museo Nacional de Historia Natural de Montevideo, Uruguay

31. Manchester Museum, Manchester, England

32. Museo Nacional, Universidade Federal do Rio Janeiro, Brazil

33. Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, Madrid, Spain

34. Museum of Natural History, Piacenza, Italy

35. Museum of New Zealand, Wellington, New Zealand

36. Oman Natural History Museum, Oman

RAMAKRISHNA and ALFRED: Natl/ral History Museums

37. National Naturhistorische Museum, Leiden, Netherlands

38. National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington,

39. South Australian Museum, Adelaide, Australia

40. South African Museum, Cape Town, South Africa

41. San Diego Natural History Museum, Sand Diego, California, USA

42. Spenser Museum, University of British Columbia, Canada

43. Forschungsinstut und Naturmuseum Senckenberg, Frankfurt, Germany

44. Tulane University Museum of Natural History, Lousiana, USA

45. Universidade Agostonho Neto, Luanda, Angola

46. University of California, Museum of Palaeontology, Berkeley, California

47. University Museum of Zoology, Cambridge, England

48. Western Australian Museum, Perth, Australia

49. Russian Academy of Sciences, St. Petersburg, Russia

50. Zoologische Museum Amsterdam, Netherlands

51. Zoological Museum of the University of Copenhagen, Denmark

52. Zoological Survey of India, Calcutta, India.

Nearly 90,000 animal species are described so far from the Indian subcontinent and it is estimated that through further survey and inventorisalion, about nine times thaI number of species still remains to be discovered in India alone. In the light of Biodiversity Convention, India holds a unique position with the priority of conservation of natural resources and sustainable development. The Zoological Survey of India, since its inception (1916), as a Government of India's department by bodily converting the Natural History section of the Indian Museum, Calcutta, has in its custody and care over 200 years old col1ections as wel1 as subsequent collections. The Zoological Survey of India was established on 1st July 1916 to promote survey, exploration and research leading to the advancement of knowledge on the faunal resources of the country. The National Zoological Col1ections present in the different sections of Zoological Survey of India, the National Heritage of the country was acquired from the former Museum (1814-1875) of the Asiatic Society of Bengal and the Zoological Section of the Indian Museum (1875-1916). At present, the department holds more than 40 lakh specimens of al1 groups (protozoa to mammalia), collected through intensive field explorations. Mention may be made of the zoological collections acquired from the Expeditions to Yunan (China) 1868, Persian Boundary Commission (1870-72), Second Yarkand Mission (1873-74), DafJa expedition (1874-75); Royal Indian Marine Survey Expedition by Investigator; Afghan Delimitation Commission, 1885; The Palmir Boundary Commission, 1896; The Tibet Frontier Commission, 1903-()4; Abhor Expedition, 1911-12; Dr. Annandale's expedition to Lake Biwa in Japan, Alcock's collection from R.I.M.S. Investigator and several others. Besides the above, the Survey has in its possession the valuable collections of Francis Day of Indian Fishes, Lionel Neville's collection on butterflies, Dudgeon's collections of moth; collections made by Blanford, Stoliczka, Theobald, Geoffery Neville, H.H. GodWin-Austen, and several others. Since independence, the survey got impetus through successive Five Year Plans and with the tempo of activities in the field of animal systematics and zoogeography, besides studying the environmental impact assessments and behavioural and ecological studies.

The present activities are in tune with the guidelines given by the Ministry of Environment & Forests in inventorising the faunal resources in the protected areas, ecosystems and conservation areas. It generates data on threatened animals, state fauna and prOVide identification, advisory and referral services. It participates in exhibitions and develop regional musea. All the above lead to the collection, storage, maintenance of faunal components including the "TYPE SPECIMENS", besides giving their geographical distribution. The National Zoological Collection housed at Zoological Survey of India, now contain more than 30,00,000 authentically identified specimens comprising over 90,000 known species of different groups of animals. The major groups of animals in this vast assemblage are protozoa, sponges, cnidarians (corals & coelenterates), helminthes, molluscs, annelids, crustaceans (prawns, lobsters, crabs), insects, echinoderms, proto and hemichordates, fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. The collection contain>15,000 Type Specimens. These Type Specimens and other authentically identified specimens serve as "Standards" for comparison. The department is also engaged in taxonomic publication in the form of Fauna of India, Fauna of States, Records of Zoological Survey of India, publication related to conservation areas, hand books, manuals, catalogues and checklists on various faunal groups, besides above reviews, revisions and technical monographs.

Besides the head quarters situated at Calcutta, sixteen regional offices have been established in various parts of the country to carryout intensive field survey's, to ensure National Zoological Collection and field observations, to undertake environmental impact assessment of the areas under their jurisdiction, to develop regional faunal museums for scientific and educational purposes and to attend to all queries from the state, central and non governmental organisations under their area. The sixteen regional offices are as detailed below:

1. Eastern Regional Station, Zoological Survey of India, Shillong, Meghalaya

2. Western Regional Station, Zoological Survey of India, Pune, Maharastra

3. Northern Regional Station, Zoological Survey of India, Dehradun, Uttaranchal

4. Southern Regional Station, Zoological Survey of India, Chennai, Tamil Nadu


5. Central Regional Station, Zoological Survey of India, Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh

6. Desert Regional Station, Zoological Survey of India, Jodhpur, Rajasthan

7. Gangetic Plain Regional Station, Zoological Survey of India, Patna, Bihar

8. High Altitude Field Zoology Station, Zoological Survey of India, Solan, Himachal Pradesh

9. Marine Biological Station, Zoological Survey of India, Chennai, Tamil Nadu

10. Andaman & Nicobar Regional Station, Zoological Survey of India, Port Blair

11. Freshwater Biological Station, Zoological Survey of India, Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh

12. Western Ghats Field Research Station, Zoological Survey of India, Calicut, Kerala

13. Arunachal Pradesh Filed Station, Zoological Survey of India, Itanagar

14. Estuarine Biological Station, Zoological Survey of India, Berhampur, Orissa

15. Sunderbans Field Station, Zoological Survey of India, Canning, West Bengal

16. Marine Aquarium & Research Centre, Zoological Survey of India, Digha, West Bengal.

By the act of Parliament, Zoological Survey of India, is recognised as the centre for Zoological Research in the country and the Zoological specimens present in the Institute as National Zoological Collections. Besides, Zoological Survey of India, a number of institutions, carry out research in taxonomy and maintain zoological collections in the country such as 1 Indian Agricultural and Research Institute, New Delhi 2 Forest Research Institute, Dehra Dun 3 Fishery Survey of India, Mumbai 4 Fisheries Research Institute, Barrackpore 5 Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu 6 Salim Ali Institute of Ornithology and Natural History, Coimbatore 7 Bombay Natural History Society, Mumbai 8 Universities in the country

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