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Eastern African Virtual Herbarium

The Virtual Herbarium is a web-based collection of digital images of preserved plant specimens and associated information, which makes data on taxonomy, geographic distribution and plant biodiversity available to conservationists throughout East Africa.

MSBP Collecting Guide with digitised image of Impatiens quisqualis and associated data (Image: RBG Kew)

East Africa is one of the worlds Biodiversity Hotspots with nearly 7,600 plant species, of which a third are found nowhere else on the planet. It is also one of the most densely populated places on Earth. The rapid expansion of agriculture and urbanisation to service this rising population places the habitats of East Africa’s plants under threat.

Preserved plant specimens are a vital resource for conservationists, forming the foundation of plant research and conservation projects. Specimens are used to identify, name and classify plants, and to document a population’s spread or decline. This historical record of plant distribution and vegetation change is fundamental to our understanding of the implications of climate change and human impact. It informs conservation priorities, drives land management policies and encourages sustainable use practices.

Plant specimens are housed in herbaria. The five major herbaria in Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania contain over 3 million plant specimens. Access to this data is severely limited - less than 5% is available digitally. A virtual herbarium, a web-based collection of digital images of plant specimens and supporting information, will enable conservationists throughout East Africa to make use of this data in order to protect the region’s biodiversity from further degradation.

Plant specimens are essential for the study of taxonomy, geographic distribution and are a vital source of reference for plant biodiversity. By facilitating universal access to this data, we will ensure that the herbaria of East Africa have all the necessary information in order to create and deliver the conservation activities required to preserve the region’s plant life.

Outputs

The Eastern African Virtual Herbarium project will:

  • Establish a universally accessible database of 100,000 specimens including data on species which are rare and threatened
  • Train staff in specimen digitisation techniques
  • Establish a data model for sharing information between regional herbaria and with Kew
  • Design and make available a regional website through which these data are retrievable and downloadable

Project partners and collaborators

Kenya

National Museums of Kenya, East African Herbarium

Tanzania

National Herbarium of Tanzania
University of Dar es Salaam

Uganda

University of Makerere Herbarium

Ethiopia

Addis Ababa University Herbarium