The Biological Collections of the Humboldt Institute

Four decades of history and research about Colombian fauna and flora

Claudia A. MedinaInstituto Alexander von Humboldt Enrique Arbeláez-CortésInstituto Alexander von Humboldt Kevin BorjaInstituto Alexander von Humboldt Fabio Arturo GonzálezUniversidade Federal de Mato Grosso Carlos DoNascimientoInstituto Alexander von Humboldt Andrés R. AcostaInstituto Alexander von Humboldt Humberto MendozaInstituto Alexander von Humboldt Diana Espitia-ReinaInstituto Alexander von Humboldt

The biological collections of the Humboldt Institute are a specific, cooperative, active, and massive source of scientific knowledge about Colombian biodiversity.

Biological collections are, by excellence, the scientific tool used to document biodiversity. Since their beginning as curiosity cabinets

in the 18th century, biological collections have been a valuable source of information that has enabled the use of methods and concepts that were previously inexistent1,2. In the current scenario of biodiversity loss and climate change, biological collections have gained importance because, besides their contribution as biodiversity inventories and distribution records through time and space, they are crucial for management and conservation programs3,4. Biological collections are useful for tracking and identifying disease outbreaks, agricultural crops' plagues, and disease vectors. Additionally, they are the basis for monitoring the state of strategic ecosystems and predicting future scenarios of change. They are also fundamental for describing species5,6.

In Colombia, the 12 collections found in the Humboldt Institute preserve more than 500,000 objects (specimens, tissues, and environmental sounds), which represent more than 40 years of research (including records from the Humboldt Institute as well as the Inderena) and significantly contribute to the knowledge about Colombian biodiversity. The creation and maintenance of these records demand processes of curatorship, administration, and information management and publication, all of which depend on continuous human and scientific efforts.

The collections of the Humboldt Institute should represent Colombian biodiversity and in addition surpass the great challenge of completing its inventory. Activities such as specimen collection and preservation, exhibitions, events, academic visits, aiding other institutions with curatorship, research, and the production of scientific knowledge are all part of the Institute's achievements in more than 20 years of making Colombia's natural heritage available to society.

In the future, these collections should seek greater association with other entities. For this purpose, the collections are expected to be positioned as centers of excellence in biodiversity research and also to influence the model of information management in other collections around the country so they may be strengthened

The Insect Biodiversity Project
Although this is the animal group with the largest number of species on the planet, it does not have a complete basic inventory 7. Their importance in pollination, nutrient recycling, and biological control

is widely recognized, as well as their roles in agricultural plagues, disease vectors, and quality indicators, which have direct effects on human well-being8. The Project was formulated with the goal of creating an inventory of this group and it involved the Humboldt Institute, the National Natural Parks System, the University of Kentucky, and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles. Up to today, the project has identified 33,007 specimens of 1,267 species,9 with at least 200 as new species for science. The Entomological Collection of the Institute has become one of the largest in the country: it contains specimens from almost all insect orders and additionally has a broad geographic representativeness.

Contributing to Knowledge
At least 30 identification guides and books have been produced from the Institute's collections. These include nationwide publications as well as Red Data Books of threatened speciess10,11 and the identification manual

for CITES birds for Colombia. As part of the ongoing work of the collections, since 1968 more than 600 scientific articles have used specimens, song recordings, or tissues from the collections. Many of these articles describe new species for science. Also, most of the articles reflect the Institute's collaboration with other collections, either national or foreign ones, for the production of knowledge.

Producción científica: aporte al conocimiento y la gestión
  • Más de 500.000 objetos de colección catalogados con el 40% sistematizado y publicado en el SiB Colombia.
  • Más de 18.000 especies de la fauna y flora Colombiana
  • Más de 2000 ejemplares incluidos en las series tipo de las descripciones de más de 600 especies.
  • 8.600 visitantes con fines educativos
  • Herbario virtual con 6.881 ejemplares fotografiados
  • Galería de imágenes con más de 4.300 ejemplares (peces, anfibios y mariposas)





biological collections natural heritage insects knowledge management