The BRYOTAN (BRYOphytes of Parc Botanique et Zoologique de Tsimbazaza, ANtananarivo herbarium) project aims to address the lack of biodiversity data on bryophytes, focusing on mosses in Madagascar. These tiny plants, mostly unknown by the public, have crucial ecological functions in humid forests where they act as a slow release water storages, and also in open, dry ecosystems as first colonizers of naked soils or rocks and humus initiators. Since the end of the 19th century more than 3,000 dry moss specimens have been deposited in the TAN herbarium, but most remain unexplored.
BRYOTAN aims to build a database on Malagasy mosses, of which 751 species have been reported, and to make taxonomic, geographical and temporal specimen data available. The first steps will involve gathering data from herbarium labels to adapt to digitization and add geolocalization info. The project team will also organize an identification and training workshop in Antananarivo, welcoming international specialists and local botanists. The workshop will enhance efficient taxonomic data production from herbarium specimen, and train Malagasy bryologists for the future.
The team will build a website of “Malagasy Bryophytes” as a platform for the estimated more than 3,000 digitized data entries, that will also be shared through GBIF.org. All records will be complemented by images.
Involving three Malagasy partners with strong skills in herbarium management, digitization, web development and bryology (PBZT, Madagascar Program of the Missouri Botanical Garden, and Mahajanga University), and the Museum of Natural History in Paris for bryophyte systematics, BRYOTAN will share high quality data to validate and add new data to a Malagasy bryophyte checklist. This work will pave the road for increased awareness of bryophytes in conservation work, for institutions in charge of biodiversity management, and also the general public.
During the reporting period, the protocol for processing herbarium specimens in Antananarivo has been improved and applied with the first round of data being published in May meaning 647 records are now on the GBIF portal. Project partners have held meetings in January and May 2018, one in Paris where participants received technical training and another in Antananarivo. The workshop in Paris provided the opportunity for the team to conclude the organization of the project and allocate roles for a project lead, GBIF implementation, technician and scientific manager. At the same time, it was decided to seek technical help both for herbarium management and data entry. Candidates were interviewed and selected to work with the project until the 31st of December 2018.
The project has progressed with the management and sorting of the TAN herbarium. Initial work has been focused on gathering all of the bryophyte specimens that are distributed across the herbarium and located in other institutions. To gain easy access to the specimens, dedicated furniture was built. After labelling and identification of specimens, each were sorted by taxonomical rank and stored ready for digitization.
An identification workshop has been organized and will take place in Antananarivo this September. This event will invite seven international specialists working with the TAN herbarium dataset in order to enhance Malagasy mosses and liverwort identification. Post-graduate students from the Antananarivo and Mahajanga Universities were also invited to attend the workshop and it is hoped that this will drive engagement with the project beyond the scope of the workshop.