What is the Biodiversity of Singapore (BOS)?
BOS is a response to a common Singaporean query – “What/where are the animals and plants of Singapore?” (or more colloquially, “Singapore got biodiversity meh?”). Hosted by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM), BOS is a rapidly growing online Digital Reference Collection of the species that can be found in Singapore. It is also a research database that tracks the numerous species discoveries made by LKCNHM.
A Showcase of Richness
The main goal of BOS is to showcase the rich biodiversity of Singapore. An average of 200 species (largely comprised of ‘neglected’ groups such as insects and crustaceans) are added into BOS each month. Many are new to science and thus still undescribed (you’ll notice that we use specimen codes for species names in many entries). They are discovered as part of LKCNHM’s species discovery project that targets Singapore’s unknown invertebrate diversity with DNA and morphological tools. BOS thus allows researchers to communicate these discoveries to the public. We now believe that Singapore still hosts 50,000 – 100,000 species of animals, plants and fungi, so there will be no shortage of species to feature any time soon.
An Ecological Web of Information
BOS is not just a pictorial index of species: it also functions as a ‘landing page’ for natural history information on each species. We capture ecological interactions between species and reflect them on BOS by linking species pages. Eventually, BOS will evolve into a virtual web of ‘who eats who’ (e.g., the Raffles Banded Langur diet), pollination associations (e.g., with the Asiatic honey bee), and even parasitism (here, a rarely-documented case of a leech feeding on one of the most endangered crabs in the world). Many species entries are also populated with links to relevant research articles, student-curated species pages, as well as other important national and regional online biodiversity initiatives and naturalist blogs (e.g., see the Oriental pied hornbill).
Fostering Biodiversity Research
BOS also aims to foster collaborative research on Singapore’s biodiversity. At its core, BOS is also a museum digitization initiative. Collection specimens not featured in the gallery are imaged and made available to the public and taxonomic experts worldwide. Researchers often discover the specimens online and then request more information or borrow specimens by contacting curators at the LKCNHM.
BOS is a collaborative effort driven by citizen scientists and professional scientists. Here, many species pages utilize images contributed by Singapore’s nature enthusiasts and citizen scientists; other pages were initiated by NUS students through their research projects.
For many other species, BOS is an important digital reference collection featuring the specimens in LKCNHM’s collections. LKCNHM began as the Raffles Museum in 1849. Over 180 years, it has accrued a rich heritage of specimens, largely from Singapore and the surrounding Southeast Asian region. Furthermore, now that the museum is ensconced in the National University of Singapore (NUS), it continues to aggregate specimens from biodiversity discovery projects carried out by many research laboratories and institutes. As such, a majority of the species featured in BOS are represented by LKCNHM specimens. This ranges from colonial-era heritage specimens to recently-collected species that are new to science and in the process of being described.
Finally, BOS is also the virtual home to historical specimens that were collected – often by prominent naturalists such as Wallace and Ridley – from Singapore during her colonial years. We have trawled through collections from other institutions such as the Natural History Museums (London and Tring) and Oxford University Museum of Natural History (OUMNH) to find and image Singaporean specimens, thus ‘virtually repatriating’ these vintage specimens back to LKCNHM.
The Genesis and Future of the Biodiversity of Singapore
BOS evolved from its precursor, the Digital Nature Archive, into the ‘Animals and Plants of Singapore’ (APS) in 2015 (see Straits Times Feature). In 2017, its name was changed to ‘The Biodiversity of Singapore’ to reflect the inclusion of other biodiverse groups such as Fungi and Algae.
BOS continues to grow rapidly, thanks to the many biodiversity discovery projects that NUS conducts, often in collaboration and with research support from the National Parks Board (NParks), Ministry of Education (MOE), Public Utilities Board (PUB) and Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS).
As it continues to grow, BOS will also complement the existing ecosystem of national and regional biodiversity initiatives such as the Biodiversity and Environment Database System (BIOME; NParks), Flora & Fauna Web (NParks), WildSingapore, Bird Ecology Study Group, EcologyAsia, Dragonflies and damselflies of Singapore, Butterfly Circle as well as the many other dedicated naturalist blogs and websites.
Lastly, please contact us at aps.lkcnhm[at]gmail.com if you have any feedback or spot any errors.