The natural sciences archives or bio- and georepositories are collections of protists, plants, fungi, animals and rocks, documenting the diversity and development (both in time and space) of the living and non-living nature of our planet. Collections constitute the foundation for the classification of living nature, which in turn constitutes the foundation for other branches of life sciences, and for broad-based environmental education as well. The natural sciences collections also have importance in attending to several practical issues, as monitoring environmental and climate change, analysing distribution of invasive species, organising nature conservation or studying mineral resources.
Human knowledge of our environment is still rather very moderate, both globally and locally, even of our own Estonian nature. This results firstly from the singularly great diversity of living nature – the number of species in the world today is estimated to be tens of millions. Considering the habitats of species, their ecosystem, genes, extinct species etc, the amount of information grows progressively. Of this great amount of information, infinitesimally little is known. Secondly, the known is fragmented between databases, publications, natural sciences collections and other data mediums, that are hardly ever able to exchange information with one another. For that reason, no general infrastructure yet exists, which would enable the researcher, the politician, the teacher, anyone to ask both general and specific questions about the current state of surrounding ecosystems.
In order to help solving these problems, NATARC is developing the central infrastructure of bio- and georepositories, consisting of repositories that correspond to international standards and of facilities needed for storing, research and databasing the collections. In addition to repositories NATARC is developing a public information system that is able to use most of the existing information about Estonian biodiversity in carrying out its analyses. This ability is essential in order to manage nature conservation problems, to monitor living nature, to discover changes of biota resulting from climate change, etc. In addition to digital information system it is important regularly to store in natural sciences collections either whole organisms or their DNA. Based on these, changes in biota can be analysed, focusing on changes of taxons, of genes or of chemical compounds.
The greatest natural science collections in Estonia reside in the University of Tartu, in the Estonian University of Life Sciences, in the Tallinn University of Technology and in the Estonian Museum of Natural History. The conditions in collection repositories are very different in separate institutions and also differ by specific fields of study. The preservation of all the scientifically valuable collections in the long term is not granted.
The partner institutions of NATARC are the University of Tartu, the Estonian University of Life Sciences, the Tallinn University of Technology, the Tallinn Univesity, the Environmental Board under the Estonian Ministry of the Environment and the Estonian Museum of Natural History. This project directly associates with different international projects and infrastructures (e.g. GEO BON and EU BON, LifeWATCH, CETAF, GBIF).