Research Collections of the Zoological Institute RAS

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Zoological Institute — one of the oldest scientific institutions in Russia with unique scientific collections. Their history is connected with the organization of the first Russian museum — Kunstkamera Peter I in 1714. In 1717, Peter the Great bought the famous Kunstkamera natural-historical collection of Albert Seba, a merchant from Amsterdam, in which approximately three hundred amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals were presented. Some of these specimens today are stored in the Zoological Institute in excellent condition. From the Kunstkamera in 1832 Zoological Museum of the Imperial Academy of Sciences was separated as a distinct institution which in the XX century was reorganized into the Zoological Institute of the USSR Academy of Sciences (since 1991 — Russian Academy of Sciences) by the decree of the General Meeting of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR on December 26, 1931.

The unique collection of the Zoological Institute were collected by many generations of Russian and foreign zoologists. Their significant part consist of the unique specimens of the Kunstkamera of Peter I, samplings of outstanding Russian scientists and travelers V.I. Bering, P.S. Pallas, A.F. Middendorf, I.G. Voznesensky, G.I. Langsdorf, N.M. Przewalsky, P.K. Kozlov, V.I. Roborovsky, N.A. Zarudny, N.A. Severtsov, P.P. Semenov-Tyan-Shansky and many others throughout the territories and waters of our planet, representing an important historical and scientific value.

An important role was played by sea voyages, including the famous round world trips by I.F. Krusenstern and Y.F. Lisiansky, F.A. Golovin, O.E. Kotzebue, expeditions of F.F. Bellingshausen, M.P. Lazarev and F.P. Litke with the participation of naturalists. We should also mention A.D. Nordmann travel to the Caucasus, K.M. Baer trip to Novaya Zemlya and to Russian Lapland, a nine-year journey of preparator of the Zoological Museum I.G. Voznesensky in the Far East and the Russian territories in North America from Alaska to California, travels of A.F. Middendorf to Eastern Siberia, expedition of L.I. Schrenk to the Amur territory and Sakhalin, N.A. Severtsov trip to the Aral Sea.

Collected during these expeditions materials are stored in the Zoological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, they remain imperishable source of information on the structure and distribution of faunal diversity in space and time. Zoological collections continue to rise, primarily due to samplings during the numerous expeditions of the Institute, as well as the contributions from a variety of companies and institutions (Russian Geographical Society, the Society for the Study of Siberia, the Office of the Northern Sea Route, the various nature reserves and others), by zoologists, local naturalists, nature lovers, through the exchange with other museums, donations from individuals and in special cases by purchase.

Zoological Institute has one of the largest zoological collections in the world, with more than 60 million of storage units. Storage units — is any object that has a label with information about the place and time of collection, collector's name and ideally — with the scientific identification. Storage units are stuffed carcasses, skins, skeletons of vertebrate animals and their parts, birds' eggs and nests, dry and wet (in alcohol or formalin), fish, amphibians, reptiles and invertebrates, special preparations of animals of microscopic size or their parts, modern and fossils remains of animals, DNA samples or individual sequencing. The concept of «storage unit» has many equivalents, some of which (samples of zoological collections, scientific materials, specimens and so on.) are used in the juridical and normative vocabulary.

The zoological collection is an ordered set of documented scientific objects representing the scientific or educational interest. The structure of the collections includes review and research collections. Review exposition of different types of animals, integrated into Zoological Museum is presented in the Zoological Institute, has about 30 000 specimens and is one of the world's largest. The most important components of this exposition include the world famous exhibition «Mammoth hall» with the famous stuffed Berezovsky mammoth, skeleton of Southern elephant and two mummies of mammoth babies which absolute age is determined by about 36–40 thousand years, the exposition of corals and shellfish, a unique collection of tropical birds, mammals, marsupials collection, the collection of vertebrates in Central Asia by N.M. Przhevalsky and P.K. Kozlov.

Research collections are presented by the systematic collection and monitoring collections (repetitive sampling in order to identify changes in natural communities). They are stored in the leading scientific centers of the world — such as the Museum of Natural History in London (UK), the National Museum of Natural History in Paris (France), the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC (Smithsonian Institution) and the American Institute of Natural History, New York (USA), Senckenberg Museum in Frankfurt am Main (Germany), Museum of Natural History in Leiden (Netherlands) and many other institutions and museums. Zoological Institute in St. Petersburg is one of the first institutions among the world's depositories of collections of animals and is the largest in Russia and CIS both in number of specimens and representation of faunal diversity.

In general, in the collections of the Zoological Institute about 260 thousand species of animals, which is about a quarter of the known world fauna, are presented. There are almost all the animal species inhabiting territory and aquatories of Russia, for many of them the big series are stored.

For many groups of animals of the Northern Hemisphere of the Old World is the most representative collection in the world. Unique collection of Zoological Institute is included in the global network of zoological collections as an integral part of the actual scientific basis for zoologists around the world. Every year specialists from dozens of countries visited Zoological Institute.

Research of the staff of the Zoological Institute, including the sampling of collections, allowed today substantially revise the outlook on biodiversity in many regions of the world, for example — one of the world centers of biodiversity — South East Asia.

Several tens of thousands of type specimens of animal species stored in the collection are of exceptional value. Type specimens have the status of international standards and are the objective basis for Zoological Nomenclature. These type specimens (standards) animals in its uniqueness and significance can be compared only with the standards of weights and measures. Type specimens are unique by definition, i.e., have no analogues and can not be replaced.

The «Golden fund» of our collection constitutes samplings of the XIX century explorers of Central Asia N.M. Przewalsky, P.K. Kozlov, V.I. Roborovsky and zoologist and traveler N.A. Zarudny from Iran, among them the hundreds of type specimens of invertebrates and vertebrates. The historically significant collections from North America are stored n Zoological Institute. Their origin is associated with sampling during 19th century by Russian expeditions, including A.G. Voznesensky, and overland expedition of G.I. Langsdorf to Brazil with participation of entomologist Edward Menetries.

It is important to note that the expansion of the technical capabilities of the methods of DNA extraction (including the work with so-called «ancient» DNA) already allows in the near future will significantly increase the scope of historically significant collection specimens, including type specimens and subfossil samples that will have the critical value for many aspects of biodiversity research.

Modern methods of studying, monitoring and conservation of biodiversity and the wide distribution of molecular techniques to describe it demanded the creation and development of a new type of museum collections — DNA collection (collection of genetic resources). Methods of fixation of the material for further processing are quite simple and relatively cheap and can be easily applied in the field. There are already developed the methods of molecular typing, not only for living objects, but also for using for this purpose the bone tissue and other collection material (including fossil). It allows including into a circle of modern research many unique specimens of those animals, many of which have critical conservation status or already disappeared. Huge collection of the Zoological Institute, active expedition activity and extensive scientific relations allow conducting the analysis of DNA from both the large volume of collection material, as well as from newly collected specimens, making the Institute an ideal base for the creation of the museum's collection of DNA as part of a unique collection of ZIN stock.

One more part of the zoological collections is a unique collection of live protozoa — trypanosomatids. This collection is maintained as living cultures on special media, and is the only one in Russia and the largest in Europe.

The content of the concept of «zoological collection» in our days of rapid progress of information technologies and advances in molecular genetic studies quickly filled with new meanings. Currently, the collection is rightfully regarded as a bank of scientific information and the primary tool for basic and applied biological research. It is available for study in accordance with the rules of storage of samples (specimens), protection and use of information. This access is defined by international rules, regulations of the Russian Federation and the internal rules established for the collection in the Institute. Each sample of scientific collection is unique, priceless in terms of increasing related information and has no commercial value.

The scientific use of the collections and depositories of integrated information systems for faunistic biodiversity in the present context includes, as the most important modern goals, digitization of collections and publication of factual information in the public domain on the Internet as well as the creation of a DNA bank. The last part of the collection will allow collecting complete information on the existing biodiversity, where each component part- collection, bank DNA databank of copies will carry their own specific functions and can adequately serve the needs of biological science and technology in the new millennium.