The Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle was founded in 1793 during the French Revolution, although the Jardin has origins as a royal garden of medicinal plants in 1635. The museum has 14 sites across France, with four in Paris, including the main Museum itself and the Royal Botanical Garden, the Jardin des Plantes. It is a grand établissement of higher education, as part of Sorbonne Universities. The collection of the Museum is considered to be among the top three natural history institutions in the world, and the Museum is conserved the formal repository for all scientifically significant collections made by other French research bodies.
The Museum’s collection of c. 73 million specimens and more than 835,000 primary types and reference specimens, is comprised of collections across France organised and administrated via the E-RECOLNAT initiative. These collections were developed to an outstanding degree during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries following the numerous historic investigations made in all continents (mainly in Africa and Asia) but also in all seas and oceans (through oceanographic explorations). MNHN, with its unique national status, is also considered as the normal repository for all scientifically significant collections made by other French research bodies (universities, IRD, CNRS, IFREMER, etc).
Most of the collections are arranged in such way that desired specimens can easily be communicated and examined. Some of the collections (e.g. Fish) are entirely digitized, some others with some important progress in that field (herbarium, entomology, minerals). The main strength is the number of types that are crucial for the modern taxonomist and a wealth of historical collections that are invaluable in investigations concerning the biodiversity changes during the last three centuries. This makes them invaluable for conservation management planning and a key research infrastructure to better document climate change and all new challenges emerging in the field of biodiversity.
The main repository of collection items are at the MNHN, whose collections are situated in different buildings located in three major areas in the centre of Paris:
- Jardin des Plantes and the Buffon-Poliveau block: these house the collections of zoology, botany, palaeontology, geology, mineralogy and biological resources. The Zoothèque is a modern facility devoted exclusive to zoological collections and includes preparation and conditioning labs and study spaces for visiting scientists. Large instruments used to study collections (molecular biology labs, scanning electron microscopes, mass spectrometers) are also located in the Jardin des Plantes.
- Musée de l’Homme: this houses the anthropology and some of the prehistory collections, as well as a DNA laboratory.
- Institut de Paléontologie Humaine: this houses Human palaeontology and Quarternary geological collections. On a worldwide basis, it houses a rich osteological collection as well as recent bone collections.
FR-TAF offers full access to the installations’ collections, facilities and staff expertise. Most of the collections are held in the three-core repository buildings based in Paris. These three repositories are available for Virtual and Physical access. All facilities provide tools for DoD, and devoted space and basic equipment to perform observations. Most have Scanning Electron Microscope facilities. Other facilities include a Transmission Electron Microscope platform, 3D Imaging (Surface and CT scans), a biomolecular laboratory for DNA extraction. FR-TAF also provides access to documentation both on-site (MNHM houses the only national library devoted exclusively to natural history) and off-site with an online catalogue and access to major bibliographic databases.
FR-TAF staff possess expert knowledge in a vast array of zoological, botanical, and geological disciplines. In many cases, they are world-leading experts in their fields and/or represent unique or rare expertise in Europe.
FR-TAF collections are digitised, ranging from metadata information of subsets of collections to specimen images and databases. Digitised images of FR-TAF are directly accessed through the E-RECOLNAT, which also offers tools to facilitate research.
MHNH acts as the French national agency for European programs and is the National Reference Centre for Biodiversity.
For 2017, 843 visitors accessed the MNHN collection; 53% originated from France, 22% from other European countries, and 25% from other nations around the world.