From 2010 till June 2022, Bhutan has discovered over 80 species new to science which includes flora and fauna
Biodiversity conservation in Bhutan has come a long way since the country became party to the United Nations Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) in 1995. Since then the country has over 50% of its land cover under Protected Areas, and has recorded more than 11,000 species which is almost 1% of the world’s biodiversity indicating a rich biodiversity comparatively to the country’s small size.
Almost all the species were recorded scientifically from the following (biodiversity) kingdoms: Animalia, Plantae, Chromista, Eubacteria, Fungi, and Protista. The two largest known kingdoms are Plantae and Animalia, which together account for 93% of all species. The smallest kingdom is Protista, which accounts for only two species (less than 1% of all species). However, the kingdoms Chromista, Eubacteria, and Protista are severely underexplored and much exploration is required in order to gain a better understanding of the diversity and significance of species within these groups.
With increase in research and explorations, many new species discoveries are made almost every year. From 2010 till 2022 (June), the country has discovered more than 80 species new to science which includes flora and fauna. The specimens of new discoveries are deposited accordingly at the recognized biorepositories along with the data and information.
Biorepositories and biodiversity information systems in Bhutan
Biorepositories and biodiversity information systems in Bhutan were instituted since 1990s, and has contributed towards biodiversity conservation and sustainable utilization efforts in the country including the recent citizen-science initiatives. The biorepository and bioinformatics were initiated along with other biodiversity conservation programs in line with the Aichi Targets and the National Biodiversity Action Plan targets. The bioinformatics in Bhutan is still in its initial stage, however some biorepositories has already incorporated information systems for their collections for effective planning, curation and management.
Biorepositories are the facilities (similar to that of museums) that collects, stores, catalogs and curates samples of plant and animal species for research or museum purposes. Biorepositories collects and curates specimens from plants, animals, insects, and other living organisms.
Bhutan has established biorepositories such as the National Herbarium for wild plants, National Plant Gene Bank for crops and seeds, National Animal Gene Bank for livestock, Taxidermy for wild animals, National Invertebrates Repository for invertebrates including insects, and other repositories distributed at various institutions covers the taxonomic groups such as fishes, amphibian and reptiles, butterflies and moths, mushrooms, bryophytes, agricultural pests, among others. Biorepositories now may also include the molecular digital information on biological diversity, which largely enhances the effective management and curation of the specimens, and greatly improving access to information.
Biorepositories are one of the key source of biodiversity data and information contributing towards building scientific evidences. Thus, the National Herbarium and National Invertebrates Repository has initiated digitizing its age old plants and invertebrates specimens. The digitized specimens are initiated to make their information freely accessible to all through the Bhutan Biodiversity Portal (www.biodiversity.bt) and Bhutan Biodiversity Specimen Portal (www.bhutanbiodiversity.net) managed by the National Biodiversity Centre (NBC). Bhutan Biodiversity Portal is an online consortium-based platform for biodiversity documentation through citizen-science and collections. Bhutan Biodiversity Specimen Portal is an online system for documenting herbarium specimens especially from the National Herbarium. The specimen collections in the biorepositories act as evidences and references for any biodiversity research or management, where most of the taxonomic and systematic studies rely or base on the specimens collected over the years. Any new species discovered should have specimens collected and properly determined and deposited at an internationally recognized museum or a biorepository. For instance, Bhutan has the internationally accredited National Herbarium under NBC acting as the collection center for all plant discoveries or records with the international code THIM.
Other major information use and sharing system related to biodiversity in Bhutan include National Biodiversity Clearing House, National Access and Benefit Sharing Clearing House, National Biosafety Clearing House, Forest Information Reporting and Monitoring System, and Pests of Bhutan database. Some of the collection-based systems include Royal Botanical Garden Database, National Traditional Knowledge Database, National Plant Gene Bank Information System, National Animal Gene Bank Information System, National Invertebrates Database, and other institutional databases.
Citizen-science initiatives in Bhutan
Citizen-science initiatives in Bhutan are increasing annually with major participations from the youths and tour guides. The contribution from the youths is playing a major role in biodiversity documentation and data use in the country. Most used applications include iNaturalist, eBird, Bhutan Biodiversity Portal, Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), and social media sites such as Facebook (groups and pages) and blogs. The citizen-science initiatives are helping conservationist to discover new species and new records, also new distributional range, and more importantly, awareness on the importance of biodiversity conservation and capacity building.
Molecular data and information on species are limited in the country, however through collaboration with international partners, some molecular information especially for new species are available to public, through the use of Barcode of Life Database (BOLD). There exists only handful of basic molecular laboratories conducting studies on biodiversity in the country. For advanced molecular analysis, the country mostly depend on the foreign experts and laboratories, which is expensive. The country’s molecular information is in a dire need of improvement with the establishment of advanced molecular laboratories and capacities in bioinformatics. Advancement in bioinformatics would also contribute towards enhancing accessibility of specimens collections distributed around the country and the world. Other major challenges include non-availability of experts in some taxonomic groups especially for some of the understudied groups.
It is also imperative to have a coordination mechanism for sharing of specimens and information related to biodiversity for conservation and management of threatened species.
As of 2019, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, at least 21 species are Critically Endangered, 43 species Endangered, 70 species Vulnerable, one plant is Extinct in the Wild and an orchid is Extinct in Bhutan. A total of 513 species are protected by Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) against over-exploitation through international trade. It includes 40 species of fauna and three species of flora, plus 56 species of fauna and 414 species of flora. Globally around 8,500 species of fauna and 30,000 species of flora are protected by CITES.
National Biodiversity Centre