Bringing nature to life
Updated: 2018-05-31
By Cao Chen (China Daily)

5b0dec3ca31001b8b9b91130.jpg

Fudan University's Zujia Biological Museum presents a collection of zoological and plant specimens collected since the 1950s. [Photo by Gao Erqiang/China Daily]

Fudan University's new Zujia Biological Museum will serve as home to many types of mammals, birds, insects, plants, fish, amphibians and reptiles. Cao Chen reports.

Shanghai-based Fudan University is to present zoological and plant specimens, collected since the 1950s, to the public.

Fudan University's new Zujia Biological Museum, will serve as home to examples of 210 types of mammal, 850 types of bird, 10,000 insects, 100,000 plants, 560 types of fish, 93 kinds of amphibian and 183 types of reptile.

"Earlier they were stored in cabinets in a 200-square-meter room, which was really cramped," says Tang Shimin, the laboratory technician of the life sciences school at the university.

5b0dec3ca31001b8b9b91132.jpg

Fudan University's Zujia Biological Museum presents a collection of zoological and plant specimens collected since the 1950s. [Photo by Gao Erqiang/China Daily]

 "But now, they are in the renovated museum, which is over 1,000 square meters. And the animal specimens are placed in the spacious and bright showcases. The plant specimens, however are housed in the cabinets as they are not yet ready for display," says Tang.

Air conditioning has been installed to keep the room at about 20 C, a suitable temperature for the exhibits, he adds.

The pavilions showcasing the mammals and the birds are the two largest exhibits, and feature pandas, white-fin dolphins, cranes, storks and raptors.

Endangered or even extinct fish and amphibian specimens like alligators, lipotes vexillifer and beluga, are also on show.

Most of the specimens were collected in China by Tang Ziying, Tang Shimin's father, in the 1950s and 1960s.

5b0dec3ca31001b8b9b91134.jpg

Fudan University's Zujia Biological Museum presents a collection of zoological and plant specimens collected since the 1950s. [Photo by Gao Erqiang/China Daily]

 Speaking about the challenges he faces in arranging the exhibits, Tang says: "Frankly, it is tough to arrange thousands of specimens, but I'm lucky to have my father's notes, which clearly record the scientific names, locations of the finds, habitats and other details.

"I also keep the record of every specimen we find today, which is for future reference. I hope to preserve and upgrade this legacy."

In the animal pavilion, Tang says, visitors can see how the species' lived, like in a zoo, because the museum took the animals' living conditions into account while creating the displays.

"We know pandas eat bamboo in the forest, and that camels live in the desert. And it shows in the displays," says Tang.

"We put the gibbons on the tops of trees, while the golden monkeys are on the ground. Even the facial expressions of the monkeys have been carefully considered."

5b0dec3ca31001b8b9b91136.jpg

Fudan University's Zujia Biological Museum presents a collection of zoological and plant specimens collected since the 1950s. [Photo by Gao Erqiang/China Daily]

 The insect specimens are kept in the cabinets alongside the plants.

Lu Fan, the laboratory technician of the life sciences school at the university, and the man in charge of the plant specimens, says: "We have more than 100,000 plant specimens, of which 80,000 are certified by experts. Precious plants, like cathaya argyrophylla and dove trees are kept in storage."

Lu says 7,000 specimens of European plants in the museum were prepared by French scientists and scholars in the 19th century, brought to Shanghai during the 1920s and 1930s, and moved to Fudan University in 1970.

"They are extremely valuable for the study of European flora," he says.

Another highlight of the collection is the Tibetan sea buckthorns, collected from Mount Qomolangma at a height of 5,100 meters above the sea level.

"My colleagues and I searched Tibet, Qinghai and Yunnan for them because they are really small and widely scattered," said Lu.

"I was lucky to have excellent colleagues like Song Zhiping who went to the plateau seven times for rhodiola rosea samples and the late professor Zhong Yang who dedicated his life to seed research. We were a good team," he says.

5b0dec3ca31001b8b9b91138.jpg

Fudan University's Zujia Biological Museum presents a collection of zoological and plant specimens collected since the 1950s. [Photo by Gao Erqiang/China Daily]

 Since 2009, the plant specimen information is fully digitized in a database with images, in response to the Ministry of Education's initiative on digital management of the university specimen collections in 2006.

While the museum is not open to the public yet, it supports scientists who need to identify specific plants and animals.

Xie Shixiang, a Fudan alumnus and a bird-watcher, says he often visits the museum to identify bird specimens.

"In the wild we usually watch birds from a distance," says Xie, "but here, the observation can be detailed without any time limit. It is like I have a lifelong free ticket to a nature theater."

Speaking about the displays, Tang says that even though many animals and plants can be seen only in books or on the internet, especially if they are extinct, this is not the case with the museum as its specimens are intact.

"This is no longer an issue. Even a snake's foot that is not completely degraded can be seen through its skeleton, which is very valuable scientific data," says Tang.

Separately, Wu Yanhua, the deputy director of the national experimental teaching demonstration center of biological sciences at the university, says the museum is now working on the construction of a digital specimen library and teaching videos.

"It will be open to the public when everything is ready," says Wu.

Copyright © 2014 Shanghai Municipal Education Commission. All rights reserved.