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History of the Centre for the Study of Biological Diversity

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The Centre for the Study of Biological Diversity, CSBD, is a non-governmental organization established in 1992 by the University of Guyana Turkeyen Campus in order to document, study and the conservation the variety of organisms found in Guyana. It is also useful for providing information about various species and for research purposes. It was funded through the Biological Diversity of the Guiana Shield Program (BDG) by the Royal Bank of Canada and USAID and interacts mainly with the Smithsonian US National Herbarium. This institution is the first of its kind to be established in South America and houses a herbarium, a zoological collection; with both wet and dry specimens, a small library, staff offices, and some exhibit space. The CSBD is headed by a director, Dr. Gyanpriya Maharaj, who is assisted by scientific officers. The work of the scientific officers includes keeping track of the records of all the verifications of specimen that were exported, ensuring that classrooms and the center are clean, maintaining the specimens that are there which can be found in the dry and wet zoological collection and the herbarium. They are also responsible for updating the specimen collection and their data and they help in maintaining a good relationship with the Royal Ontario Museum, which contributes to the maintaining and improvement of the center. They are also responsible for inspecting dead specimens that are being exported by other researchers. At last count, the herbarium contains approximately 5000 specimens and the zoological collection is home to approximately 12000 specimens. These are preserved in different ways such as in alcohol (wet) and in naphthalene (dry). The herbarium can be described as a plant library of sorts. It is where dry plants are stored by pressing, drying and then labeling them. There are many important reasons for keeping a herbarium; it is a conservatory of plant material and data and thus helps in research and in identification of plants. It is also important to keep a collection of plants in order to note evolutionary history and can be studied in order to produce genetically modified plants that are resistant to diseases and the climate. Studying plant distribution is important and as such, when plants are taken to the herbarium they are labeled with the habit, local name, flower color and other characters of the plant, use of plant, frequency and abundance of species etc. It also includes the morphological description, range of distribution, variation and uses. They are then color coded and labeled for sorting and retrieving data. When specimen are collected, they are sorted and stored usually based on genera, which is arranged in alphabetical with each family in the herbarium; species are arranged alphabetically within each genus. At the University of Guyana the herbarium is used to teach plant biology courses due to the availability of dried plants over fresh ones.

The Centre of the Study of Biological Diversity is also home to preserved animals. This is divided into wet and dry rooms. In the dry museum one can find dried specimens and in the wet museum specimens are kept in bottles filled with alcohol. Preservation of animal species has a number of benefits; it is done for a detailed examination, to study the physical body of a specimen that is difficult to obtain in a while, and a collection of specimen can be used as a directory of sorts.

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The CSBD utilized both wet and dry methods of conservation. In wet preservation, there are three main steps, killing and relaxing, fixing, and storage. When killing specimen it is important that it is done in such a way that it is left undamaged. When preserving organisms it is important that they are frozen first. This inhibits bacteria activity and decreases the probability of contamination. After freezing, the specimen is thawed; the time it takes depends on the size of the specimen. However, it is not completely thawed, just enough for it to be pliable. In order for fixation to correctly be carried out a high percentage of alcohol a high percent is required. This removes the water from the cells thus preventing decay, while also making tissue stiff. The fixative agent, usually formalin, is injected into the body in large quantities as it is also important in inflating the specimen in order to give it a natural look. Because of the fleshy nature of the belly and internal organs, special care must be taken around these areas. Therefore it is advisable to inject fixative through the cloaca. It is important to also position the specimen how you want it to look at the end, because once the fixing process is complete, the specimen will not be able to move much. After this is complete, the specimen must be placed in a high percent of ethanol for complete fixation. As the water seeps out of the cells of the animals, it dilutes the ethanol and therefore the ethanol should be changed every few days, to keep it functioning well. Fixation is complete when the complete specimen is stiff but not hard. After specimen are finished being fixed in the proper position, storage is done. They are stored in alcohol filled glass jars and labeled. The label is a very important part of the storage process. It contains the location from where the specimen was obtained, the date and time it was collected, the name of the collector and a brief description of the specimen. Scientific classification is also done. When labeled, the specimens are organized alphabetically based on group of taxa. This allows for easy locating of specimen. Some animals are best preserved dry, i.e. without the use of alcohol. It is useful in preserving insects, birds and some mammals as alcohol would damage some of their features. Dry preserving ensures that the wings, feet, feathers, etc., will remain as though it is alive. When preserving larger animals, the innards are removed and then the outer skin is stuffed. This is done because the main reason for preserving them is to observe their plumage. This is a very delicate and time consuming process. The outer skin is treated with antifungal chemicals to prevent molds from forming. The specimen is then dried and stored in drawers. The eyes are removed and replaced with cotton balls. Labeling these specimen is important and it is done such that the location, time and date the specimen was collected is displayed. The label will also have the order and family name of the specimen printed on it.

Smaller insects are preserved by drying. At the end of the drying process, the specimen will become hard and will not be malleable; therefore care must be taken when selecting a drying position. One method of dry preservation is pinning. This is where a pin is stuck through the body of the specimen. If the specimen has wings, one side is pinned in such a way that it depicts the wing in motion and the other such that the wing is at rest. However, before pinning is done, the specimen has to be relaxed. This is especially important if pinning is not being done as soon as the specimen is euthanized. This is because the specimen will become brittle and difficult to handle and easy to damage. The specimens that are to be relaxed are placed in an airtight plastic container with several layers of wet paper towels at the bottom. The specimen body will absorb the moisture without discoloration or damage occurring. Once relaxed, it will be easier to pin specimen in any desirable position. When the specimen is large it is important to remove the internal organs before mounting because if left they will rot and thus cause damage to the specimen. When pinned, the specimens are preserved through dehydration. Specimens are dried via baking. Depending on the size of the specimen, the drying time will differ. After this step is complete, no further decomposition will occur. Pinned insects should not be exposed to direct light and should be stored secured drawers in rooms that have quality humidity control. These should be checked for potential pests and steps should be taken to reduce the occurrences of these pests such as using fumigants such as naphthalene. It is important to label all collected specimen. It should have its date, time of collection and place of collection clearly printed. The name of the collector should also be printed. The label also will have the order and the common name of the specimen. The herbarium is useful in plant studies while both the wet and dry museums can be used to teach research methods and also teach anatomy and location of different animals. It is important to keep records of animals to study their evolutionary history and to study their features to observe how they are important to their habitat and how they are suited for surviving their environment.

The construction of the CSBD is paving a way for upcoming biologists to perform better and to conduct research. It is also important in the documentation of organisms found on Guyana’s soil and how they are important to the economy.

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