Naturalis Biodiversity Center, Leiden, Netherlands

Naturalis Biodiversity Center is a national museum of natural history and a research center on biodiversity in Leiden, Netherlands. Although its current name and organization is relatively recent, its history can be traced back to the early 1800s. Its collections contain approximately 37 million specimens, one of the largest natural history collections in the world.

Naturalis Biodiversity Center is an internationally operating research center with over 120 scientists and 200 research associates describing, understanding and explaining biodiversity and geodiversity. The foundation of this research is our national collection of 37 million plants, animals, fossils and stones gathered during the last two centuries. Naturalis is best known to a large audience as a natural history museum for families, receiving more than 300.000 visitors each year.

Naturalis Biodiversity Center has a long history as an organization. On 9 August 1820, King Willem I decided to form the foundation of the National Museum of Natural History. In 1878 the geological and mineralogical collections were split up to form the new National Museum of Geology and Mineralogy. In 1998, the activities were reunited with the creation of the Naturalis Natural History Museum Naturalis. It was opened on April 7th of that year by Queen Beatrix.

The foundation for the Zoological Museum Amsterdam was laid in 1838 with the establishment of the Zoological Society ‘Natura Artis Magistra’. The history of the National Herbarium of the Netherlands, which knew a Leiden, Utrecht and Wageningen branch, dates back to 1829 when King Willem I gave a Royal Order order to establish the National Herbarium.

On January 28, 2010, the National Natural History Museum Naturalis, the Zoological Museum Amsterdam and the National Herbarium Netherlands were merged with the Dutch Center for Biodiversity (NCB) Naturalis. The collections and staff were brought together in Leiden. The ultimate goal of the cooperating parties is a complete merger. In 2013, ETI BioInformatics, founded by UNESCO in 1990, merged with Naturalis Biodiversity Center. This strengthened the group dedicated to the biodiversity computer science. Thus, the Catalog of Life (Species 2000) was housed and was contributed to the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF, NLBIF).

When the Rijksmuseum voor Natuurlijke Stichting was founded in 1820, it was very accessible to the public, in some periods not even at all. In 1986 it was decided that it should become a public museum. However, extensive new construction was required. The cost – around 60 million euros – was the largest for a museum until that time, on the construction of the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam.

The institute manages most of the Dutch natural history collections. The total collection of Naturalis Biodiversity Center is in size to the top five of the world, with an estimated 37 million objects.

The museum informs the public about biodiversity on earth. An important part of this is the development of modern educational programs for primary and secondary education. The museum attracted 303,000 visitors in 2014, including 50,000 students. The institute manages many nature information sites and produces mobile apps, such as the Bioportal and the Dutch Species Registry. In total, the digital information services managed by Naturalis Biodiversity Center visited more than five million times a year (2014).

In addition to a museum, Naturalis Biodiversity Center is also a scientific research institute. In 2012, approximately one hundred researchers and about two hundred guest researchers worked on biodiversity issues. In addition, they were helped by a large network of amateur researchers (citizen science). The researchers specialize in marine and terrestrial zoology, botany and geology. In the period 2012-2016, besides the usual systematic activities, the institute explores the following themes: evolution of characteristics, interactions between species and dynamic biodiversity. Naturalis Biodiversity Center is an international knowledge center and connected with the universities of Leiden, Wageningen and Amsterdam. The staff also provide university education and develop supplementary curricula and guest lectures.

The current collection counts over 37 million objects and is therefore one of the world’s top five in the field of biology. The collection consisted of specimens of organisms and documentation in 2012.

In 2010, Naturalis Biodiversity Center received € 13 million from the Economic Structure Enhancement Fund to digitize the collection. This began in 2011. The project will be completed successfully in mid-2015. Seven million objects are digitized and are stored in a database that is available to anyone online so remote research is possible. Digitization of old collections takes place as needed. In 2015 and early 2016, over 275,000 images of the Naturalis collection were uploaded to the Wikimedia Commons.