A challenge for science, a challenge for the senses
Acting for the future of humanity. That’s the challenge of the Biodiversity Centre, a project developed in partnership with the Université de Montréal (UdeM). Located on the grounds of the Jardin botanique de Montréal, the Centre opened its doors in March 2011.
The Université de Montréal Biodiversity Centre is a major hub of scientific research, the result of a partnership between the UdeM and two Montréal Space for Life institutions, the Jardin botanique and the Montréal Insectarium. The Centre boasts ultramodern facilities for research into biodiversity, its preservation and its promotion. It’s home to invaluable collections. In addition to being a very special setting for the transfer of knowledge among researchers from here and elsewhere, the Centre also contributes to increasing public awareness on the subject of biodiversity. This is crucial to the conservation of species and ecosystems.
The four major objectives of the Biodiversity Centre
1. The showcasing and conservation of collections
The Biodiversity Centre ensures the preservation and promotion of a Québec heritage made up of the Université de Montréal’s richest collections of plants, insects and fungi (the Marie-Victorin Herbarium and the Ouellet-Robert Entomological Collection ), the Insectarium’s collection, and the Fungarium of the Cercle des mycologues de Montréal. The Centre also enjoys special access to the living collections of the Jardin botanique. Bringing all these collections together in this way makes it possible to share expertise and resources and to better manage the collections and digitize their data.
2. Scientific research
The Centre’s collections serve as the basis for scientific research on biodiversity. Its facilities include the latest equipment for the rapid processing and identification of large numbers of samples, particularly microbial species whose biodiversity has barely begun to be inventoried. These exceptional facilities allow for considerable reduction in purification and analysis time and costs, in turn facilitating large-scale studies and accelerating the discovery of new species and new strains of ecological or industrial interest.
3. Knowledge transfer
The consortium Canadensys, piloted from the Biodiversity Centre, will coordinate the networking of numerous biological collections from Canadian universities and other institutions. It sees to the compatibility of databases and will make that information network accessible by means of a user-friendly Web environment. That network is compatible with the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF, www.gbif.org) and the Canadian Biodiversity Information Facility (CBIF, www.cbif.gc.ca), thereby fostering partnerships on biodiversity and sustainable development. The information compiled in these collections is available to everyone: researchers, government departments and organizations, associations, private firms and the general public. This simplifies the conducting of research projects on biodiversity, impact studies of human activities, and enlightened decision making for the conservation and sustainable use of the biological heritage.
4. Heightening public awareness
Through its establishment at the Jardin botanique de Montréal, the Biodiversity Centre promotes increased public awareness of the major complexes of problems relating to biodiversity, to its conservation and to the importance of research in that area. The Centre includes a large exhibit hall, showcasing the biological collections and biodiversity. Moreover, the Centre and the Canadensys network comprise important resources for the educational programs of the Jardin and the Insectarium.
Urgent action required
If nothing is done to reverse the trend, scientists generally agree in predicting the disappearance of 25 to 50 percent of species by the end of the century. At the same time, only a little more than one-twentieth of the planet’s biodiversity has been catalogued thus far. We know practically nothing about viruses. Millions of insects and that many seaweeds, fungi and vascular plants have still not been classified. In other words, a vast inventory of species and an in-depth study of the genetic resources in play must be undertaken to determine what exists and what must be protected.
Above and beyond its intrinsic ecological value, biodiversity offers innumerable other benefits, be they cultural, social or economic. The characteristics of species and their equilibrium within ecosystems determines the stability of communities, their adaptability to environmental change and their potential for evolution. Those properties are essential for maintaining the services that these ecosystems provide us with (climate regulation, production of food, drugs and other products). It happens that in Canada, ecosystems are already registering notable losses. For a number of species, time is running out.
Even as the urgency of drawing up the geographic and genetic inventory of biodiversity becomes more of an issue, Canada like all countries must deal with a shortage of taxonomists, particularly in the essential taxa like insects and microscopic fungi.
A number of large-scale biological collections are currently being kept in conditions that threaten their physical integrity and restrict their development. In addition, the great majority of the data on biodiversity are available only in hard copy or in other forms of storage that are difficult to consult. Nonetheless, these natural-science collections contain a wealth of historical and current information about Canadian biodiversity.
However essential it may be to identify species, at the same time we must develop an understanding of their ecological role and describe the genetic resources that they embody. That knowledge allows for the study of such phenomena as environmental change, the impact of farming and forestry practices, the invasion of unwanted species, the virulence of diseases, the decline and extinction of species, and the evolution of ecosystems in space and time. Such information is indispensable for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.