07/3/14 11:15 AM

Short history of Lifewatch's initiative

Joint effort

On January 19th, 2011 representatives from organisations in Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Romania and Spain signed a Memorandum of Understanding to cooperate for an early start of the LifeWatch infrastructure for biodiversity and ecosystem research. Spain took up the challenge to became the project leader, from the conviction that LifeWatch will be essential to preserve biodiversity and will contribute to consolidate an EU common research network.

In particular, the Stakeholders Board agreed that Italy, the Netherlands and Spain take lead by pledging financial support for establishing the technical, managerial and legal aspects of the LifeWatch Common Facilities on the basis of their respective capabilities and commitment.

Italy, responsible for the construction of the Service Centre, is now implementing the website.

The initial pages of the website will be increased also in view of the number of EU Member States that will join the establishment of the LifeWatch European Research Infrastructure Consortium.

The Memorandum of Understanding for the start-up of LifeWatch was signed by designated organisations and authorized persons: Carlos Martínez Riera, as director general de Cooperación Internacional y Relaciones Institucionales, Ministerio de Innovación, from Spain; Peter an Tienderen, director of the Institute of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics, University of Amsterdam, for the Netherlands; Giuseppe Martini, director Department of Life Sciences for Italy; Katalin Török, director of the Institute of Ecology and Botany, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, for Hungary; and Constatin Cazacu, University of Bucharest, for Romania.


Early initiatives

Biodiversity and ecosystem research did already benefit at an early stage from the new opportunities provided by information and communication technology. Especially the possibility to build relational databases proved to be an important tool to capture biodiversity data and to organize information differently. This promoted in various sub-disciplines the development of new software packages to deploy the growing databases. A number of EU funded Networks of Excellence in these scientific areas explicitly addressed ICT developments and could build a more integrated European approach. The ENBI project, European Network for Biodiversity Information (www.enbi.info) designed an outline plan for the further integration of these different approaches within a proposed European Research Infrastructure.

Scientific networks push LifeWatch

In early 2005, Prof. Carlo Heip of the MARBEF network invited a number of scientific networks for a meeting in Amsterdam to consider an initiative in the framework of ESFRI, the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures .

The networks were:

  • Network of Excellence, Terrestrial Biodiversity ALTER-Net
  • Network of Excellence, European Distributed Institute of Taxonomy – EDIT
  • Network of Excellence, Marine Biodiversity and Ecosystem Functioning – MarBEF
  • Network of Excellence, Marine Genomics Europe - MGE
  • Network of Excellence, Ocean Ecosystems Analysis EUR-OCEANS
  • Infrastructure network SYNTHESYS
  • Biological Collection Access Service for Europe – BioCASE
  • European Network for Biodiversity Information – ENBI


The joint meeting agreed on proposing a European research infrastructure since its sheer size with respect to costs, functionalities and user communities would require large-scale collaboration. It was concluded that implementation of LifeWatch is only possible through international cooperation. The initial support from a few countries resulted in the uptake of LifeWatch as priority in the first ESFRI Roadmap of 2006.



On request of the collaborating scientific networks, the University of Amsterdam prepared a proposal for a FP7 LifeWatch preparatory project, which was subsequently funded for three years (January 2008 – January 2011). 19 European countries expressed their interest in the prospects of LifeWatch. The preparations were directed at:

Elaborating the details of the construction plan (data resources, technical architecture, service organisation, legal structure, financial plan)Securing sufficient (potential) national commitments to establish LifeWatch and to start the construction

The project resulted in a detailed construction plan and cost book. An initial group of countries signed a memorandum of Intent in order to establish a Stakeholders Board as provisional governing board. Five countries of these pledged advanced funding for a start-up phase towards the actual infrastructure construction.