“Biodiversity, in the broad sense, is our life support system. It is absolutely essential and more important than almost everything else, but is typically taken for granted”
Alex Hardisty and Dave Roberts, BIH2013 Organizers
Piecing the biodiversity puzzle together.
The explosive growth of science in the 20th century led to such a degree of specialisation that science itself fragmented into a myriad disciplines, most of which evolved their own specialised language! Some disciplines, though, needed big, expensive machines so, for example, physicists from many disciplines came together to lobby for the big machines like particle colliders and telescopes. Biology has never established such a tradition of cooperation and doesn’t have an effective voice. It is, rather, many small voices saying different things. All corners of the biology community need to come together in order to reap the rewards of its multi-faceted landscape knowledge base. The Biodiversity community in particular has an important role to play in this but first needs to take stock of its current assets. “We've got some frameworks coming into place" – says Alex Hardisty, Cardiff University and one of BIH2013 prime movers - "we now need to take a step back and reflect on this framework better, try to understand where the gaps are, and what tools and procedures we have today".
3 key words: integration, cooperation, promotion.
The Biodiversity Informatics Horizons 2013 conference was organised in Rome, Italy, by a group of 18 EU-funded projects with the aim of structuring the biodiversity informatics community at the European level and beyond. Specifically they wanted the community to prepare for the release of funding calls for H2020 in a spirit of cooperation rather than competition. During 4 days 180 participants including more than 40 speakers reviewed challenging areas and promising technologies in biodiversity informatics, pathways to sustainable implementation and changing the community culture . Two panel discussions were organised where international experts explored opportunities for cooperation to build a sustainable global infrastructure. Demonstrations, posters and training activities allowed delegates to see first-hand some of the new and exciting infrastructure building blocks.
The delegates came home with 3 keywords in their minds:
1) Integration: The Biodiversity community needs to make use of the data and tools already created to reveal those data that are missing and provide justification for the digitisation effort required to mobilise those that are missing.
2) Cooperation: If a global biosphere model is to be created, data from the whole world is required. Europe is already well covered but work is required in Russia, China, Brazil and India where gaps exist.
3) Promotion: Europe in particular is well placed to offer leadership in this area and, in addition to serving the needs of scientists, should also seek to serve the needs of decision-makers such as the Convention on Biodiversity Diversity (CBD) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).
Recognising the actual challenges
Environmental priorities have commonly concentrated on observing, recording and classifying biodiversity but there is a growing need for predictive biosphere modelling that extremely complex. Climate modelling can be assumed to be in equilibrium at a global scale, which when perturbed returns to equilibrium. The biosphere, on the other hand, is dependent on the climate, influences the climate and its componentsbiodiversity, is prone to extinctions evolution. This makes the process of establishing General Ecological Models exceedingly hard, and will take decades to achieve.
A new collaborative approach
In the meantime, a short-term vision is appearing with the need to establish how the first steps towards this common goal can be established during the H2020 funding period. The European commission has moved towards broader, but focused, collaborative proposals rather than the competitive bids that were usual in previous Framework rounds. Furthermore, better links between various disciplines have to be set-up, including ecology, molecular biology, microbiology, agriculture, socioeconomics, taxonomy, remote sensing and, of course, computing. The website http://h2020.myspecies.info, created at the time of the conference, responds to this need. Actors interested in joining consortia can register their interest and suggest projects that can lead to consortium bids.
“The EC encouraged us to adopt a more cooperative and open system so this conference is the first step to try and change the way this community works, so that we are more open in the way we prepare the bids, identify the goal, and then work together” Dave Roberts, NHM London and BIH2013 organizer, explains.
Making it happen. Every year.
Finally, the goal of predictive biosphere modelling is beyond the abilities of the biodiversity informatics community alone. The Biodiversity community must come together and forge links with the other disciplines engaged in understanding the biosphere. We must respond to the challenges and priorities of the next decade in biodiversity and ecosystems research, structuring bottom-up and top-down interactions on informatics and cooperating across the community is an essential activity. The BIH conference will become an annual meeting for this very reason.
BIH2103 website: http://conference.lifewatch.unisalento.it/index.php/EBIC/BIH2013
H2020 website: http://H2020.myspecies.info If you want to be added to the Biodiversityemail@example.com mailing list simply write an email to Dave Roberts firstname.lastname@example.org or Alex Hardisty hardistyAR@cardiff.ac.uk