[SANTIAGO] Brazil's initiative to collect and bring back its botanical data, scattered across institutions around the world, has kicked off through a series of projects totalling nearly US$13 million.
Several institutions signed up to the initiative — the Virtual Herbarium for Knowledge and Conservation of Brazilian Flora (REFLORA) — last month (December).
In Brazil, these included the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development, Brazilian federal development and research agencies, the National Corporation of Higher Education and companies Natura and Vale S.A..
Internationally, two major contributing institutions, which hold the majority of the samples, are UK's Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and the National Museum of Natural History (MNHN) in France — which, together, house an estimated 600,000 Brazilian species. Both agreed to provide samples and help digitalising the data.
Other samples to be repatriated will come from the MNHN's Virtual Herbarium Saint-Hilaire, and in the United States, the New York and Missouri botanical gardens and the Smithsonian Institution's botany department.
REFLORA aims to make data on some one million Brazilian plant samples, kept in foreign botanical collections, freely available online in three years time.
José Oswaldo Siqueira, director of agronomical, biological and botanical sciences at Brazil's National Council for Scientific and Technological Development, which is coordinating the project, told SciDev.Net that another component of REFLORA will be research projects related to the repatriation of species and the development of botanical science experts.
He added that the project "is very significant for Brazil and other countries because it will help identify new plant species, do a new inventory of Brazilian flora and revise the list of endangered species.
"With the virtual herbarium, Brazilian researchers and students will not have to travel abroad to check referenced species deposited in foreign collections."
Myriam Nechad from MNHN told SciDev.Net that REFLORA is of "utmost importance for botanical research and knowledge of Brazilian flora worldwide and for conservation everywhere".
She added that the project will also foster European–Brazilian cooperation in training, data enhancement and research.
Besides contributing Brazilian specimens conserved in Paris, MNHN will fund the production of digital images and provide the database — Sonnerat — and the computer interface that will enable the capture of data from the digital images' labels.