Building global collaboration for biodiversity intelligence

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Media Release from the Global Bio­di­ver­sity Infor­mat­ics Con­fer­ence (GBIC), which was attended by Paul Fle­mons from the Aus­tralian Museum and rep­re­sen­ta­tive on OZCAM.

Pub­lic to play major role in mobi­liz­ing expanded range of data needed to pre­serve vital func­tions of life on Earth, con­fer­ence concludes.

Copen­hagen, Den­mark – A land­mark con­fer­ence has agreed key pri­or­i­ties for har­ness­ing the power of infor­ma­tion tech­nolo­gies and social net­works to under­stand bet­ter the work­ings of life on Earth, focussing on how bio­di­ver­sity can con­tinue to sus­tain human lives and livelihoods.

The Global Bio­di­ver­sity Infor­mat­ics Con­fer­ence (GBIC), gath­er­ing some 100 experts from around the world from 2–4 July, iden­ti­fied crit­i­cal areas in which greater invest­ment and bet­ter coor­di­na­tion could give soci­ety much bet­ter, inno­v­a­tive tools to mon­i­tor and man­age bio­log­i­cal resources. These tools will be designed to sup­port vital func­tions such as food secu­rity, human health and more sus­tain­able eco­nomic development.

The over­all aim is to build global col­lab­o­ra­tion on bio­di­ver­sity obser­va­tion, unit­ing many part­ners and ini­tia­tives, capa­ble of detect­ing and enabling responses to short-term changes and long-term trends in bio­di­ver­sity and ecosys­tems. This col­lab­o­ra­tion will con­nect diverse sources of data on genetic vari­abil­ity, occur­rence and abun­dance of species, traits of organ­isms and many other fac­tors. It will address a wide range of pol­icy needs includ­ing the Aichi Bio­di­ver­sity Tar­gets agreed by gov­ern­ments in 2010 as part of a 10-year strate­gic plan to halt bio­di­ver­sity loss.

Don­ald Hobern, Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of the Global Bio­di­ver­sity Infor­ma­tion Facil­ity (GBIF), host of the con­fer­ence said: “Infor­ma­tion net­works sup­port and per­me­ate nearly every aspect of our daily lives in areas such as bank­ing, com­merce and enter­tain­ment. We still do not have this kind of rich, globally-interconnected sys­tem for under­stand­ing and mon­i­tor­ing life on Earth.

“We know a lot about species, genet­ics, and ecol­ogy, but we can’t eas­ily put this infor­ma­tion together into a work­ing knowl­edge sys­tem. This con­fer­ence has given us a roadmap toward this goal.”

The capa­bil­i­ties dis­cussed by the par­tic­i­pants at GBIC, who came from a range of dis­ci­plines includ­ing bio­di­ver­sity sci­ence, pol­icy and infor­mat­ics, will now be devel­oped in con­sul­ta­tion with the sci­ence and pol­icy com­mu­ni­ties into an out­look doc­u­ment. It will set pri­or­i­ties for bio­di­ver­sity infor­mat­ics for the com­ing decade with a view to estab­lish­ing an effec­tive and agile sys­tem of fore­cast and rapid response – equiv­a­lent to weather fore­cast­ing or earth­quake detection.

A num­ber of spe­cific areas were iden­ti­fied for devel­op­ment in the out­look, each to include achiev­able out­comes over a five to ten year time­line, build­ing on and inte­grat­ing many exist­ing ini­tia­tives and con­tribut­ing to the over­all vision of a global bio­di­ver­sity intel­li­gence sys­tem. They include:

  • Mak­ing best use of the huge poten­tial for the pub­lic to become part of a global bio­di­ver­sity knowl­edge net­work as both con­trib­u­tors and ben­e­fi­cia­ries, using lat­est tech­nolo­gies, social net­works and local/indigenous knowledge;
  • Cap­tur­ing through all avail­able tech­nolo­gies the com­plex­ity of inter­ac­tions among species – for exam­ple predators/prey, parasites/hosts and pol­li­na­tors – as well as their traits. The tech­nolo­gies will include acoustic mon­i­tor­ing and remote sens­ing, and will help analyse these inter­ac­tions to estab­lish their impor­tance in pro­vid­ing eco­log­i­cal ser­vices to people;
  • Greatly improv­ing the capa­bil­ity to pro­vide pre­dic­tive mod­el­ling across dif­fer­ent scales, esti­mat­ing the impact of spe­cific envi­ron­men­tal changes on bio­di­ver­sity for any point on Earth, and the result­ing dis­rup­tion of eco­log­i­cal ser­vices to peo­ple and communities;
  • Expand­ing the cur­rent net­work of linked data from species names and museum col­lec­tions up to satel­lite images of ecosys­tems and down to DNA in micro-organisms;
  • Shin­ing a light on hith­erto hid­den lay­ers of bio­di­ver­sity, for exam­ple using gene sequenc­ing capa­bil­i­ties to under­stand the mil­lions of kinds of microbes inhab­it­ing the air, oceans, soils and higher organ­isms through­out the world, and their role in con­trol­ling the life sup­port sys­tems of the planet.

Don­ald Hobern con­tin­ued: “Over the last quar­ter cen­tury, thou­sands of tal­ented peo­ple have been work­ing hard to bring essen­tial bio­di­ver­sity data onto the web. Much has already been achieved or is under development.

“GBIC has rein­forced how impor­tant these activ­i­ties are, and at the same time has out­lined a path for us to build from where we are and deliver a rich globally-connected sys­tem for under­stand­ing and mon­i­tor­ing mul­ti­ple aspects of biodiversity.

“I want to thank the atten­dees for work­ing so hard over the last few days and encour­age all oth­ers with an inter­est in bio­di­ver­sity infor­mat­ics to respond to the upcom­ing out­look doc­u­ment, and help to refine this as a shared vision.”

Erick Mata, exec­u­tive direc­tor of the Ency­clo­pe­dia of Life and also a mem­ber of the GBIC orga­niz­ing com­mit­tee, added: “The five to ten year research and devel­op­ment roadmap that emerged from our dis­cus­sions in Copen­hagen will be a liv­ing doc­u­ment. We want researchers, pol­icy mak­ers and the gen­eral pub­lic with inter­est in bio­di­ver­sity to con­tribute their ideas and get involved in implementation.”

For more infor­ma­tion please con­tact:
Tim Hirsch
GBIF Sec­re­tariat