SwissCollNet is committed to improving the accessibility of natural history collections. A common vision and long-term strategy will promote the use of natural history collections for research, education and society.

Image: OscarLoRo, stock.adobe.com

Zoology - Invertebrates

Reconditioning and digitisation of the patrimonial Auguste Forel ant collections in Switzerland, with a focus on the primary types
Anne Freitag (Cantonal Museum of zoology), Bernard Landry (Natural History Museum Geneva), Marc Neumann (Natural History Museum Solothurn)

Auguste Forel (1848-1931) was a Swiss entomologist, neuroanatomist and psychiatrist. He was one of the most important myrmecologists of the late 19th and early 20th century. He described more than 6000 taxa (genera, species and subspecies) of ants. He also built up one of the largest collections of ants in the world. Comprising more than 65,000 pins, often with several specimens per pin, and more than 10,000 types (the voucher specimens used to describe the taxa), this collection has been deposited mainly at the Muséum d’histoire naturelle in Geneva and the Musée cantonal de zoologie in Lausanne. The Naturmuseum in Solothurn also inherited some specimens.

The main work will consist in digitising and photographing a large part of the type specimens, at least one for each taxon represented by a type. The data on locality and date of collection, collector, determination, number of specimens and castes will be collected and then uploaded into the respective databases of the museums. For the Geneva collection, which is the most important in terms of number of species and specimens, a representative of each species will also be digitised. The collections in Lausanne and Solothurn will be fully digitised.

In Geneva and Lausanne, part of the collection has remained in the original boxes used by Forel, which no longer meet current conservation standards. This material will be reconditioned in new entomological drawers.

Increasing accessibility through reorganization and digitization of papered butterflies belonging to the Epstein Collection
Bärbel Koch (Cantonal Natural History Museum, Lugano)

The Epstein Collection was deposited at the Museo cantonale di storia naturale (MCSN) at the end of the 1980s. It comprises 60’000 specimens of diurnal butterflies collected by Hans Epstein and his family for over 20 years, and is estimated to inlcude 70% of the species found in the Palearctic and Nearctic regions. One third of these specimens had already been mounted before donation and could thus be reordered, revised and digitised during the past decades. However, as time during expeditions is always limited and the work required to mount insects is enourmous, many specimens were stored in glassine envelopes: around 40’000 specimens are today still in envelopes of glassine paper or newspaper sheets and are stored in various different boxes (plastic, aluminium and cigar boxes). Although the MCSN has received all the relevant documentation related to the Epstein Collection (epistolary, maps and field diaries), the detailed content of the boxes is still unknown and the difficult accessibility makes a revision and digitization challenging. The main scope of processing the papered butterflies of the Epstein Collection is to make specimen data digitally available in order to know the detailed content of the envelopes as well as to improve access of the data to experts in Switzerland and internationally for further research. Digitisation will be accompanied by a physical reorganisation of the material facilitating the finding of material and its long-term preservation.

Spiders (Araneae) of the MCSN: Reconditioning, Revision, Reorganization and Digitization of a Southern Alps collection
Lucia Pollini Paltrinieri (Cantonal Natural History Museum, Lugano)

Spiders, which unfortunately often do not enjoy a good reputation in the population, are in fact fascinating and very diverse organisms. For this reason, they are often used in bio-indication studies, including in Ticino. For regional museums, as the MCSN, it is important to have collections of the species present in the territory they represent, both as an intrinsic value for the institution itself and as reference material for researchers. In the last 35 years, samples from researches carried out in Ticino, in different environmental types and representative areas of the Canton, have been delivered in a heterogeneous way to the MCSN.

This project aims at revising, reorganising, conditioning and digitising the estimated 9’000 spider specimens from Ticino and stored at the MCSN. The reorganized collection will allow an easier management of samples in the long term, including any new material that will be deposited at MCSN in the future. Very important will be the standardisation of the structure of the database and the systematics that will make these data easily integrated into the SVNHC.

Finally, this project will promote both training and collaboration between two museums, Lugano and Basel, and the young biologist hired for this job will have the opportunity to become familiar with spider identification and systematics, as well as with museum conservation techniques.

Digitisation, perennation and valorisation of the Mayflies and Stoneflies (Insecta) collections housed in the Swiss institutions
Jean-Luc Gattolliat (Cantonal Museum of zoology, Lausanne), Seraina Klopfstein (Natural History Museum Basel), Lionel Monod (Natural History Museum Geneva), Marco Bernasconi (Nature Museum Lucerne)

Mayflies (Ephemeroptera) and Stoneflies (Plecoptera) are two small orders of aquatic insects of prime importance for the freshwater ecosystems; they are widely used as bioindicators. Mayflies and Stoneflies collections housed in the Swiss institutions are of great importance at national and international levels, including type material of around 700 species (10% of the known species in the world).

We propose a large-scale digitisation of the 100 000 occurrences of Mayflies and Stoneflies housed in the Swiss institutions. We will implement new pipelines to accelerate the rate of occurrences digitisation, including automatic procedures for multiple pictures acquisition and OCR (optical character recognition) to extract data from recombined pictures of labels. High quality pictures of specimens will be taken using last generation equipment. Identifications will be confirmed by experts and all the type material will be clearly labelled and identified by double-checking with the literature. The collections will be curated to insure the highest standards for long term preservation. All the extracted data and pictures will be transferred to institution databases and then to SVNHC (Swiss Virtual Natural History Collection).

This project will also strengthen the synergy between institutions by sharing skills, knowledge and collections. It will create high accessibility and valorisation of the collections and increase their worldwide recognition.

Digitization of the types of parasitic helminths described by renown Swiss parasitologists
Maria Isabel Blasco Costa (Natural History Museum Geneva)

The Parasitic Helminths Collection at the Natural History Museum of Geneva (MHNG) is the richest in Switzerland, and for some major taxa one of the most unique in Europe. The backbone of the collection stems from the collections of several influential Swiss parasitologists during the 19th and 20th century, whose dedication and discoveries are still little appreciated by the general public. This proposal aims at digitizing the type specimens of species described by Otto Furhmann (1871-1945), Jean-George Baer (1902-1975), George Dubois (1902-1993), or Franco Bona (1922-2014), and former scientists of the MHNG, Claude Vaucher, Alain de Chambrier and Jean Mariaux, to facilitate curatorial practice and promote information exchange and availability of fragile and precious specimens to scientists. The collection of parasitic Platyhelminthes (flatworms) comprises 1269 records of whole-mounted type specimens belonging to 609 species described by the above researchers from all over the world. This effort will foster taxonomic research in a group still in constant expansion and will set the foundations for microscopy digitization of other taxa with whole-mounted specimens preserved on microscope slides. The new images and high-standards of curation of this collection will certainly be an asset for developing a future online portal of Swiss Virtual Natural History Collections.

Digitization of Delessert's Malacological collection and identification of type specimens (phase 1).
Emmanuel Tardy (Natural History Museum Geneva)

This project aims to digitize part of the Delessert collection, largest European malacological private collection of the 19th century and largest malacological collection in a Swiss institution. Backbone of the MHNG Mollusca collection, it hold many unmarked types. In practice, we want to database 12'500 of the estimated 60'000 remaining lots, to update the taxonomy, to identify types specimens among the digitized specimens and to picture them in a standardized way.

Reconditioning and digitisation of Hans Pochon’s and Nestor Cerutti’s Coleoptera collections
Sophie Giriens (Natural History Museum Fribourg), Hannes Baur (Natural History Museum Bern), Marco Bernasconi (Nature Museum Lucerne), Giulio Cuccodoro (Natural History Museum Geneva), Anne Freitag (Cantonal Museum of zoology), Matthias Borer (Natural Hisotry Museum Basel), Janine Mazenauer (Natural History Museum Firbourg)

The Natural History Museum of Fribourg’s collections are a treasure trove of data on the past of our environment. Among them are the collections of Hans Pochon (1900-1977) and Canon Nestor Cerutti (1886-1940), consisting of more than 30,000 scarabs, weevils, ladybirds, and other insects of the Coleoptera order. All the specimens collected and pinned by these two entomologists during the 20th century are of great scientific value as they attest to the state of the fauna of that period, especially for the cantons of Fribourg and Valais. However, these collections have remained untouched for almost 100 years and are in serious need of reconditioning. This project will therefore aim to reorganise the insects according to a modern classification of life, store them in new airtight frames so that they are protected from collection pests, and digitise all the information on the old labels so that it can be made accessible to the global research community. The project also includes visiting other Swiss museums to inventory their Pochon and Cerutti beetles and inviting specialists to verify the identification of the new beetle collection. This big task will not only bring to light a huge amount of data on the Swiss insect fauna but will also ensure its accessibility to the scientific community in the near future.

Pteromalidae in Swiss Collections
Hannes Baur (Natural History Museum Bern), Marc Neumann (Nature Museum Solothurn), Yvonne Kranz-Baltensperger (Natural History Museum Bern)

The project Pteromalidae in Swiss Collections aims to establish a comprehensive database of the dry mounted specimens in as many Swiss institutions as possible. The Pteromalidae collections are housed in 7 major institutions: Natural History Museums of Aargau, Basel, Bern, Geneva, Lausanne and Solothurn, as well as in the Entomological Collection at the ETH in Zurich. The collections comprise about 22000 specimens. The Pteromalidae are a major group of parasitic wasps, important in basic and applied research. Having a complete specimen database of the Pteromalidae in Swiss Collections on the Swiss Virtual Natural History Collection (SVNHC) platform will bring the family automatically to forefront of research considerations. As most specimens were collected in the context of biological control projects, the result will not only be a specimen database, but also a database on host-parasitoid relationships. Finally, the specimens will not only be databased, but also be largely re-identified. Hence, it is to be hoped, that this project will stimulate the interest of future generations of specialists in this ecologically and economically most important group.

Mollusc and coral collection: About preventive conservation, databasing, revision and data sharing
Celia Bueno (Natural History Museum Neuchâtel), François Claude (Info Fauna - CSCF)

The mollusc and coral collection of the Natural history museum of the city of Neuchâtel find It’s origin over 200 years ago and is highly valuable both scientifically and historically. This collection kept growing until reaching over 35'000 lots as of today. Whereas a manuscript catalogue of the collection was updated till the early 20th century, very few of the specimens are registered in the database. Moreover, shells and corals require a proper reconditioning with non-acidic material to preserve them from further degradation and dust.

This two years-long project is a unique opportunity to long-term secure all of these specimens, digitalize them into the database and proceed to selected revision. In this context, all the Swiss specimens as well as other relevant part of the collection will be revised or determined by specialists. Furthermore, this project also includes database developments to improve the data valuation for international audience and process large amount of sample pictures.

Cholevinae (Coleoptera, Leiodidae) of the world – conditioning, databasing and digitisation
Matthias Borer (Natural History Museum Basel)

The Natural History Museum Basel (NMB) has obtained a private collection of 15'922 Cholevinae (Coleoptera; Leiodidae). This collection contains 781 species (698 from the Palaearctic), including 15 holotypes and 611 paratypes of 99 species. This collection increases the number of species of Cholevinae at the NMB by over 40%. They are represented worldwide with a bit more than 2000 species. The main distribution area is in the western Palaearctic, and many species occur as endemics in a highly restricted range. The high degree of endemism is due to their often restricted mobility and their particular way of life in vertebrate nests, in underground mammal burrows, or caves. Due to their specific way of life, they can be exciting and essential indicator species for questions in biodiversity, environmental, or habitat protection.

The Chlevinae of the obtained private collection will be digitally recorded in this project. In addition, the type material (holo- and paratypes) will be photographed with high-resolution photo stacking imaging and also included in the database. The digitization will make data, including photos of the type material, of about half of all known Cholevinae species worldwide accessible to researchers and interested individuals.

The Termite Collection of Eberhard Ernst
Christoph Germann (Natural History Museum Basel)

Termites are a fascinating group of social insects that live in large states and have a pronounced caste system. Only the queen and king of a state produce offspring, while the remaining individuals are employed either as workers or soldiers. Termites are well-known for their skilfully constructed mounds and their positive effects on soil fertility. Most of the about 3,100 species live in Africa and South America, and many species are difficult to distinguish morphologically.

This project concerns the unique termite collection of Eberhard Ernst, which after his premature death reached the Natural History Museum in Basel. The collection, which consists of more than 11'000 vials with an estimated 100'000 specimens, is in urgent need of reconditioning, as E. Ernst's system with individual glass vials filled with ethanol bears the danger of desiccation of valuable specimens. We aim to bring together detailed locality and ecological data from various documents and notes and match it with the worker, soldier and king and queen specimens. The digitized collection will prove a unique resource for termite specialists, ecologists and climate change scientists from all over the world.

Campopleginae of Switzerland – time to tackle a major blind spot in biodiversity research
Seraina Klopfstein
(Naturhistorisches Museum Basel), Hannes Baur (Naturhistorisches Museum Bern), Anne Freitag (Kantonales Zoologiemuseum, Lausanne), Karin Urfer (Naturmuseum St. Gallen)

It is well known that there are many new discoveries to be made in the tropics, but it might be more surprising that also about 1/5 of the Swiss fauna is still considered to be unrecorded. Darwin wasps (Ichneumonidae), and especially their poorly researched subfamily Campopleginae, are believed to harbour many of these “hidden” species. They attack mainly the caterpillars of small moths, and due to this parasitoid lifestyle, they are at the top of the insect food web and thus play an important regulatory role in agriculture.

This project aims to fill some of the gaps in our knowledge of the Swiss biodiversity by conditioning, identifying, and digitizing about 5,800 Campopleginae specimens already preserved in the natural history collections of Basel, Lausanne, Bern and St. Gallen. Through detailed macro-photography, we are furthermore going to provide virtual access to the primary types of about 115 Campopleginae species, mainly from the J. F. Aubert collection in Lausanne.

Our knowledge on this highly neglected taxon will be drastically improved, including historical data to allow inferences about faunal changes in this ecologically and economically highly important group. The project will put applied research about the use of these parasitoids as natural enemies and biocontrol agents in agriculture on a solid basis, and the training aspects will help overcome the shortage in taxonomic expertise on these wasps in our country.

Hartmann’s molluscs. A historical collection that should be shared
Karin Urfer (Natural History Museum St. Gallen)

Karin Urfer

Naturmusem St.Gallen

The natural history museum St.Gallen owns a small but very valuable snail shell collection inherited from Johann Daniel Wilhelm Hartmann (1793-1863). He collected the shells together with his father between 1820 to 1860. This shell collection bares a number of type specimens that are of high scientific value. Currently, the shells are housed together with other shells Hartmann received from colleagues in 16 original cherrywood drawers. Unfortunately, the glue that Hartmann used at the time now slowly degenerates and the shells are getting loose. Loose shells also mean the loss of information concerning locality and the original species determination, which are written on the base of the drawers. Therefore, we intend to restore the collection and revise the species determination. With the support of the SwissCollNet we can now hire the mollusc expert Dr. Eike Neubert. He will support K. Urfer to professionally restore and redetermine the shells. We will then store and digitise these precious snail shells. Finalising this project means a complete digitalization of all Swiss snail shells housed at the Naturmuseum St.Gallen, which are then made accessible for the scientific world and everyone else who is interested in the collection of Johann Hartmann.

Identification and digitization of the unidentified spiders from Switzerland present in the collection of the Natural History Museum of Geneva
Lionel Monod (Natural History Museum Geneva)

The Natural History Museum of Geneva (MHNG) harbours a very rich collection of spiders that probably ranks among the 10 world best. During the last century, more than 3000 spiders from Switzerland were collected by former curators of the MHNG arthropod collection and local independent naturalists. However, the major part of this material is still not identified because of the lack of interest by contemporary specialists who remain more focused on tropical fauna. The aim of the present project is to identify this dormant material and make the data available to specialists through online naturalist platforms and biodiversity inventories. The planned work will thus contribute to increase the value and visibility of the local spider collection at MHNG. Moreover, the newly generated distribution data will permit to improve our knowledge of arachnological distribution ranges and diversity in Switzerland, as well as to potentially assess more accurately changes induced by climatic and environmental changes to this fauna during the last century.

Water Mites in Switzerland – conditioning and databasing
Holger Frick (Natural History Museum Basel), Laurent Vuataz (Cantonal Museum of zoology, Lausanne)

Water mites are one of the most species rich groups in fresh water ecosystems. They are used as bioindicators for water quality and on top of that visually attractive. In Europe, exist almost 1’000 species of which more than 150 are solely connected to springheads.

In Switzerland, the collection and study of water mites had a long tradition at the Natural History Museum of Basel, including unique so-called type specimens among the several 1000 microslide preparations. Recently, uncountable numbers of water mites were collected during national biodiversity initiatives and stored at the Museum of Zoology in Lausanne without further investigation. However, water mites remain understudied in Switzerland and the access to data of the collected specimens is difficult.

The Swiss water mite digitisation project will change this. Historical collections will be screened for type specimens and their data digitised. Already available data will be translated to international standards and so far untouched samples will be sorted, prepared, determined, properly stored and digitised to make the objects and object data finally available for research.

The Swiss Auchenorrhyncha Collection of Heidi Günthart
Isabelle Zürcher-Pfander (Natural History Museum Basel), Ueli Rehsteiner (Bündner Nature Museum), Jessica Litman (Natural History Museum Neuchâtel)

Heidi Günthart from Dielsdorf (ZH) has investigated and documented the Swiss Auchenorrhyncha fauna for more than 50 years. As one of the first female entomologists in the country, she has contributed significantly to the current state of knowledge and over time has built up an Auchenorrhyncha collection that is unique in Switzerland. Thanks to her research, the number of reported species from Switzerland has increased from 70 to almost 500. Most of the records originated from the Swiss National Park (SNP) and the surroundings.

The collection, which was donated to the Natural History Museum Basel (NMB) by Heidi Günthart in 2012, comprises approx. 140 plastic boxes with around 60 glass tubes each. There is a total of 486 species from 15 families with about 31,000 specimens.

The collection of Heidi Günthart needs to be integrated into the existing entomological collection of the NMB and specimen records digitised.

The revised collection will serve as a reference for Auchenorrhyncha, unique for Switzerland, and thus support the scientific potential of collections for present and future research and expertise in taxonomy.

Three-dimensional digitization of insect type collections
Michael Greeff (Entomological Collection, Biocommunication & Entomology, ETH Zürich) Lukas Keller (Zoological Museum of the University of Zürich), Marco Valerio Bernasconi (Nature Museum Lucerne), Jessica Litman (Natural History Museum Neuchâtel)

In biological nomenclature, "types" are specimens that are present when a species is described. In natural history collections, types are among the most valuable specimens and are studied by researchers worldwide. They are at considerable risk of damage or complete loss due to excessive handling, shipping, and inappropriate storage during loans. To protect these valuable type specimens, the current project will generate digital representations of the physical specimens by 3D imaging. These can easily be sent around the world and worked on. 3D technologies allow not only for detailed studies of traditional morphological features such as distances, textures, and patterns, but also for measuring surface areas and volumes, which so far have been neglected in taxonomic descriptions. The applicants would be the first entomological collections to establish 3D imaging in Switzerland. In the current project, around 1'200 name-bearing type specimens will be 3D scanned using photogrammetry. In addition, special use cases are being investigated in (inter)national collaborations, e.g. scanning of very small, flat or relatively large insects as well as genital specimens. A user group and a workshop on 3D imaging will help other Swiss collections to introduce the technology in their own institutions.