1. Biodiversity of the Rhodopes (2004—2006). There is one monograph devoted to the biological diversity of the Eastern Rhodopes and another to that of the Western Rhodopes. The latter is just the first part of this research including mushrooms, sea weed, mosses, vertebrates and some invertebrates. The two books are in English (a total of 1925 pages) and contain information on the distribution of 6291 and 7375 species of animals, plants and mushrooms in the Bulgarian and Greek parts of the mountain, respectively. For some groups there is published data on the conservation significance of the species and territories, distribution in terms of habitats, zoogeographical appurtenance, endemism, and threats to vertebrates.
2. Biogeography and Ecology of Bulgaria (2007). A monograph on this topic (687 pages) was issued by Springer as volume 82 of the series Monographiae Biologicae. It analyses the species diversity, origin, geographical and ecological distribution and the issues on preservation of all vertebrates and model groups of invertebrates in Bulgaria. It gives generalised information on the fauna of caves, underground waters and the Black Sea. It offers new hypothesis on the origin of fauna and its distribution by categories and scenarios on their settlement on the Balkan Peninsula, paying particular attention to endemism and relicts. The project has scientific significance, as it examines one of the most interesting and richest territories in Europe and at the same time the best studied country on the Balkan Peninsula in terms of biodiversity.
3. The Red Book of Bulgaria, second edition (2004—2008). NMNHS fulfilled this project together with two other BAS institutions participating in volume 2 (Animals) with 4 editors and 11 authors and almost entirely dealing with the insects and the large mammals and partially working on the other animal groups. It determined the conservation status of some 400 animal species in Bulgaria and distributed them along the official categories of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). It studied the distribution and number, habitats and biology of some 280 species, and analysed the threats to their existence, highlighting the adopted and yet to be adopted measures for their protection. The new edition of The Red Book updates the highly outdated information of the first edition (1985), for the first time including invertebrates and beside in Bulgarian, it came out also in English and in an on-line edition.
4. Optimisation of NATURA 2000 Ecological Network in Bulgaria and Scientific Basis for its Sustainable Development (2007—2008). Under this project NMNHS along with other BAS institutes performed an expert assessment of proposed protected territories under NATURA in Bulgaria and some missing information was added. NMNHS participates with 11 scientists in preparing an analysis of large mammals, bats, reptiles, amphibians, fish, invertebrates and of caves as habitats of great conservation value. The main gaps in the standard forms on protected territories have been filled out. National assessment was performed for the larger part of the animal species within NATURA’s priorities and evaluation was made of their representation within the protected zones. A critical report was drafted on the country’s regionalisation used by NATURA 2000, proposing changes to the boundaries between biogeographical regions.
5. Prime Butterfly Areas of Bulgaria (2007). A bilingual, richly illustrated book was published with a CD. A bilingual web site on the same topic was developed containing additional information. The information contained in the book was officially submitted to NATURA 2000 project.
6. Caves and Speleology in Bulgaria (2006). A monograph in English (507 pages) summarised all published and a large number of original information on caves in Bulgaria, the scientific studies performed in them and the role of Bulgarian scientists in the research of Karst sites all over the world. The book contains descriptions and maps of 260 big Bulgarian caves. It provided for the first time the world scientific community with information on the Bulgarian achievements and clearly showed Bulgaria’s leading place in the development of the interdisciplinary science called speleology.
7. Neogenic-Quaternary Palaeogeography and Geodynamics of Mid Struma (2005). It revised the stratigraphy of the late Miocene in Southwest Bulgaria. It worked out an original palaeogeographic and palaeoecological model of the development of the natural environment (climate, relief, river system, landscape, vegetation and animals) of that time.
8. National Biodiversity Monitoring System (2004—2005). Four scientists from NMNHS took part in the development of a system for assessment of biodiversity impacts. Methodologies were proposed for monitoring of large mammals, bats, amphibians, reptiles and fish and the specific localities for their research were determined. A practical manual was worked out aiming to assist the work of experts from the Ministry of Environment and Waters, when making analyses of the long-term changes in the number of rare and endangered animal species.
Until now NMNHS scientists have described as new for the science some 210 families, species and subspecies of crustaceans, arachnids, myriapods and insects from Europe, Asia, Africa, North America and Oceania, as well as fossil families and/or species: swan, duck, ibis, falcon, partridge, capercaillie, dogs, rhinoceros-like mammal, antelopes, tahr, monkey, etc. A number of nomenclature changes have been made: new synonyms, new combinations, new statuses. Over 1000 animal species have been determined as new to the fauna of the Balkan Peninsula. New for Bulgaria are the fossil ostrich, peacock, sabertooth tiger, and for the first time in Europe a hornbill was found in Bulgaria. In recent years catalogues were published of the millipedes of the order Callipodida in the world and the ground beetles in Bulgaria and Albania, as well as catalogues of the NMNHS collections of minerals (8195 samples of 913 types from 94 countries) and of different groups of animals.
Applied science activities
The practical aspects of the work of NMNHS focus mainly on nature preservation. Part of these activities are to the benefit of or under assignment of government bodies, international organisations or EU bodies.
A work group headed by a NMNHS representative developed a draft Law on Caves for the National Assembly. The drafting of many other documents is headed by museum scientists or they participate in the process at the request of the Ministry of Environment and Waters (MEW). Such documents are the National Action plans on the protection of the two species of tortoises and three priority and endangered orchid species, as well as a Action plan for the Bulgarian bear populations. NMNHS experts have participated in the working out of the management plans for the three national parks in Bulgaria — Central Balkan, Rila and Pirin, for the natural parks Vrachanski Balkan, Sinite Kamani, Shumensko Plato, Rilski Manastir and many other protected territories. There is proposal on the setting of a new natural park in the Gabrovo Balkan. Expert declarations concerning the Environmental impact assessments of the planned Struma highway and on the mining and processing of gold-bearing ores around Krumovgrad were submitted to the High Expert Council with MEW. The rangers of the Central Balkan National Park have been acquainted with the ecology of the wolf.
For the purposes of the Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works a management plan was worked out for Orlova Chuka cave in Ruse Region. For the purposes of the Customs Agency a training course of educational lectures was developed and a text book for customs officers was published dwelling on the animal species included in the Washington Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of the Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
NMNHS experts were particularly active before the EU bodies regarding the issue of preservation of nature in the Kresna Gorge related to plans to build Struma highway. The unique nature of the gorge fauna and the threats to it were reported to representatives of the Directorate General for Environment of the European Commission in Brussels and to the Committee of Transport with the European Parliament and to the Bureau of the Convention on Preservation of the Wild European Flora and Fauna and Natural Habitats (Bern Convention), to which Bulgaria is a party.
NMNHS scientists are authors of popular scientific books and articles, consultant and translators of films on similar topics. Museum experts render their qualification and knowledge to assist similar scientific institutions in the country and abroad, private companies and persons, by working out expert positions and assessments of minerals and hunting trophies and they provide consultations regarding the fight against pests and parasites in agriculture and forestry and they organise relevant EU events.
The National Museum of Natural History maintains close relations with similar institutions (museums, institutes, university departments) all over the world. In recent years NMNHS scientists have been working on joint projects with their colleagues from Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris (France), Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, Madrid (Spain), Society for the Study and Conservation of Mammals VZZ, Arnhem (the Netherlands), Dutch Butterfly Conservation, Wageningen (The Netherlands), Marshall University, Huntington (USA), Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago (USA) and many other. There are also international projects involving academic exchange with Spain, France and the Czech Republic.
Dozens of foreign scientists use the museum collections every year to perform their studies and NMNHS scientists actively participate in the research of museum collections worldwide. In 2007 alone NMNHS was visited by 11 foreign scientists who worked jointly with the museum experts or researched its collections. That year volunteers from West Europe (Belgium, France and Italy) started working for the museum, helping to maintain the collections or assisting specific scientific projects.
NMNHS is the national centre for implementation of the Washington Convention on International Trade of Wild Flora and Fauna Species (CITES) and its Director represents Bulgaria in the EU Scientific Group on CITES issues. Museum experts prepare statements for different specialised bodies of the European Commission on national issues concerning biodiversity preservation. Recognition for the scientific achievements of some of NMNHS experts is their participation as editors of foreign journals such as Neues Jahrbuch fuer Geologie und Palaeontologie (Stuttgart), International Journal of Myriapodology, Annals of the Upper Silesian Museum (Bytom), Lacewing News and Biologia Macedonica.
In the last five years the number and volume of Bulgarian and international projects with scientific, practical or nature-preservation focus, in which NMNHS experts took part, increased considerably to reach in 2007 the number of 58. In 2007 only the museum participated in the implementation of eleven projects funded by the European Commission, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the National Geographic Society, SCOPES program of the Swiss National Science Foundation and other international organisations. It is worth mentioning several of these international projects of scientific and public significance some of which with direct nature-preservation impact:
1. Fauna Europaea — NAS extension (2001—2004). The museum is a leading national institution in this project’s implementation within the EU Sixth Framework Program. A list was made of the species (without protozoans and sea fauna) established in Bulgaria. Following the project’s closing, with the additions the overall number amounted to 26 655 species, 20 574 of which insects. The project is of scientific importance, as it rendered the first full list of the terrestrial multicellular animal species in Europe in the last 250 years after the tenth edition of of Carl Linnaeus’ Systema Naturae (1758) enumerating some 143000 species.
2. PESI (A Pan-European Species-directories Infrastructure) (2008—2013). The museum is a full and the only partner from Bulgaria along with 39 international scientific institutions. The project was funded under the EU Seventh Framework Program. It aims to integrate the whole of the reliable taxonomical and nomenclature information on the biodiversity in Europe.
3. Prime Butterfly Areas of Bulgaria: Mechanisms to preserve nature (2006—2007). The project was funded by the Dutch government under BBI MATRA program. Fifty important regions for preservation of butterflies were designated which complemented the national ecological network NATURA 2000 and became part of PEEN (Pan European Ecological Network). GIS maps were drawn for these regions describing the main habitats and systematising the main threats. Based on original methodology and scientific criteria, fifty three target species of European importance were determined along with many other butterfly species of national importance, determining their conservation importance as well.
4. Bats and Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA): mechanisms for implementation of the European Directive on Habitats and the EUROBATS Agreement in Bulgaria and Romania (2007—2008). This project was also funded by the Dutch government under BBI MATRA program. A manual was worked out containing original methodology for bat assessment when working out EIA. There are plans to train the employees of government and private institutions on how to use it and to work out information materials promoting bat preservation. The project is of great practical importance as bats are most affected by changes in the environment and for that reason all European bat species are protected by international conventions. On the other hand, all species inhabiting Europe can be found in Bulgaria as well.
Until the 60s of 20th century the collecting and expedition activities of the museum scientists had focused mainly on the fauna of Bulgaria. Occasionally zoological materials were collected from Africa and the neighbouring Balkan countries. Contributions to the museum collections with specimens from other countries became more active after 1970 when expeditions to different regions in the world were held: Africa, the Himalayas, China, Korea, Indonesia, New Guinea, Mexico, Cuba, South America, etc. In 1983 NMNHS organised an independent expedition to Mozambique. Research trips to Asia in 1984—1995 were headed by museum associates. Particular attention was paid to biospeleological studies in Bulgaria and foreign countries.
Scientists from NMNHS are invited to participate in prestigious scientific and research projects on the fauna of New Guinea, Cuba, China. In recent years many field studies have been held to research palaeontological sites in Bulgaria, Greece and the Republic of Macedonia. Nowadays activities aiming to enrich the museum collections with materials from the country and abroad are still very active. In the period 2006—2008 scientists from NMNHS took part in expeditions in Tunisia, Albania, Turkey, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Pakistan and Cambodia.
The scientific collections preserved in the National Museum of Natural History are the most representative of this type on the Balkan Peninsula. They incorporate a total of one million specimens and samples including over 460 mammal species and over 1990 bird species. The reptile and amphibian collection is one of the richest in Europe. The insects account for some 480000 specimens, the other invertebrates are over 300000 as well. The museum preserves around one fourth of the mineral species from around the world and more than 30000 samples of fossil invertebrates. The collection of cave fauna from Bulgaria and other countries is particularly rich including many species, which are not presented in any other museum in the world. Hundreds of type specimens, which are used to describe new for the science species, are the focus of international interest. Contributions to collections are made through collecting activities throughout the country, expeditions and individual trips abroad, exchange with similar institutions abroad, donations, buy-outs of private collections, delivery of collections or individual specimens confiscated by the customs or other authorities. The palaeontological branch in Asenovgrad preserves some 30000 fossil bones of Miocene mammals which have inhabited our lands.