“Biodiversity” indicates the variety found in living things: plants, animals, and micro-organisms, the genetic information they contain and the ecosystems they form. Biodiversity can be explored at three levels– genetic, species, and ecosystem. These three levels work together to create the complexity of life on Earth.
Taiwan, whose area is but 36,000 square kilometers, has an amazingly diverse natural environment, terrain, climate, and vegetation and is thus endowed with ecosystems that range from the tropical to the alpine. Its high proportion of endemic species and sub-species makes Taiwan unique.
Since 1908, the museum has had a Zoology Department, which has focused on research, collecting and exhibiting specimens, and educating the public. Work in this realm concerns mainly investigations on animals and biodiversity, with emphasis on the endemic fauna of Taiwan.
The zoology collection is divided into seven categories: mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, crustaceans, insects, plants, and models. Among the items in the collection, insect specimens are most numerous, while bird and animal specimens are most distinctive, as they include rare and critically endangered animals including endemic species or sub-species, for example, the Formosan Clouded Leopard (Neofelis nebulosa brachyurus), Chinese Otter (Lutra chinensis), Mikado Pheasant (Syrmaticus mikado), Swinhoe’s Pheasant (Lophura swinhoii), and Broad-tailed Swallowtail Butterfly (Agehana maraho). These specimens are key to biodiversity and animal-related research in Taiwan.
The Botany Department was also organized in 1908. The museum’s first director, Takiya Kawakami, and museum staff Yaichi Shimada, Syuniti Sasaki, Nariakira Konishi, and Ushinosuke Morri were very active in researching plants in Taiwan and created a basic taxonomy of Taiwanese botanical diversity. They were collectors who made a great contribution to botanical research in Taiwan. After Taiwan’s Retrocession, NTM Director Chen Chien-shan invited renowned botanist Mr. Liu Tang-jui to work for the Museum. Mr. Liu taught and mentored many students, training the next generation Taiwanese plant taxonomy researchers. Famed botanists Prof. Liao Ri-jing and Prof. Huang Tseng-chieng both studied under Liu. It can be said that the NTM was the cradle of botanical diversity research in Taiwan.
Apart from research in the field of traditional vascular plants (ferns and flowering plants), algae (including seaweed and micro-algae) research is also seen as important and focuses on in-depth investigation, collection, and identification. To advance botanical research, many natural history museums feature a herbarium. The NTM is no exception, hosting the “Herbarium of Taiwan Museum,” which is listed in the “Index Herbarium” as TAIM.
Botanical specimens are mainly vascular plants (ferns and flowering plants), bryophytes, and algaes (seaweed and micro-algae.) Specimens come in dry, wet, and slides. Most bryophyte specimens were collected by the pioneer bryophyte researcher, Prof. Wang Zhong-kui, Prof. Lai Míng-zhou, and Prof. Lin Shan-xiong. The seaweed collection is the result of recent research efforts and includes many newly-recorded species.