Big Data to tackle biodiversity crisis

Biodiversity Next conference shapes a powerful coalition of biodiversity information scientists and Research Infrastructures.

The world’s largest conference of biodiversity informatics was held from 22 – 25 October in Leiden, the Netherlands. The Biodiversity_Next 2019 conference brought together top scientists in the field of biodiversity informatics with one main goal: to jointly intervene in the global biodiversity crisis through big data. Referred to by some researchers as the 6th global extinction wave, the current biodiversity crisis is characterised by the disappearance of thousands of species. The root causes of this extinction wave are climate change, land-use change, and industrialisation. Effective intervention in this crisis relies heavily on mobilising globally interoperable biodiversity data, so the stakes are high for biodiversity data scientists to facilitate decision making with evidence-based knowledge. Biodiversity_Next kicks off and builds upon a global collaboration between key stakeholders and looks into delivering consensus views on the status and outlook of their joint efforts. 

Let’s build the future of biodiversity, now and together!
“The major challenge ahead for biodiversity and ecosystem science is of a cultural nature, and it implies moving from working in silos towards a collaborative framework approach, where we all come together, think together and deliver together nature-based solutions to societal challenges” said Christos Arvanitidis, CEO of LifeWatch ERIC, which co-organised the conference. “Biodiversity_Next marked a key step towards a global biodiversity information strategy, its wide success and enthusiastic reception from different stakeholders and the large audience proves how much our research communities and policy makers seek more opportunities to work together and establish new synergies.”

Connecting science, connecting scientists
The stakeholders in this conference were as varied as their backgrounds were diverse. Around 700 participants from more than 76 nationalities represented all the fields of interest to biodiversity informatics: from computer scientists to biologists, from taxonomists to DNA specialists, making this conference even more important. Not only systems and data need to be connected, scientists also need to establish a common language. The current biodiversity emergency can be effectively tackled only by joining forces, putting together expertise and structuring the knowledge constantly produced by the various research infrastructures, organisations and initiatives. 

It is of great importance to engage young scientists in biodiversity informatics as this field presents wonderful opportunities to better understand biodiversity organisation and functioning and improve our capacity to build future scenarios of change. And to do this globally, a coherent capacity-building program is needed across the fields of biodiversity science and information technology and across the globe. The GBIF Young Scientist Award and Ebbe Nielsen Challenge demonstrate how this can be done. Inclusiveness is a keyword. Hot spots of the world’s biodiversity are in countries building up their scientific capacities, and their economies. A global alliance must address their needs for shared knowledge, and shared data. 

The ‘Leiden Declaration’: create a global dataset of life on our planet
Key actors got together at the conference to write a white paper outlining the road forward: the ‘Leiden Declaration’, a commitment towards better data, better science, better policy: ‘Scientific infrastructures are essential to generate services in delivering a comprehensive, accessible and actionable body of biological and geological evidence-based knowledge of global reach. An increasing number of national, regional and international level initiatives generate, integrate and share information on the natural world, highlighting their growing importance to underpin the science-policy interplay and decision-making process. Significant data gaps were identified as well as disconnects between infrastructures, which are needed for a holistic and comprehensive understanding of our planet’s biological and geological diversity.’

LifeWatch ERIC commitment in Biodiversity_Next has been very strong, and on top of being one of the co-organisers of the conference, having sat on its Programme Committee, with its CEO, and Steering Board, with our CTO, representatives of LifeWatch ERIC Common Facilities and National Nodes contributed to the overall programme of the conference, chairing sessions, having talks and posters on our Virtual Research Environments and services. In particular, our CTO Juan Miguel González-Aranda presented LifeBlock, the brand-new service created by LifeWatch ERIC that applies for the first time ever blockchain technology to biodiversity data, ensuring their full trackability and FAIR-compliant data and services. 

Oral Communications

• Christos Arvanitidis et al.The Collaborative Potential of Research Infrastructures in Addressing Global Scientific Questions – abstract

• Christos Arvanitidis et al.Combined High-Throughput Imaging and Sequencing: Addressing the collections on demand requirement in SYNTHESYS+ project – abstract

• Stefanie Dekeyzer et al.Marine Species Traits in the LifeWatch Taxonomic Backbone – abstract

• Juan Miguel González-Aranda et al.,Facing e-Biodiversity Challenges Together: GBIO framework-based synergies between DiSSCo and LifeWatch ERIC – abstract

• Leen Vandepitte et al.The LifeWatch Taxonomic Backbone: Connecting information on taxonomy, biogeography, literature, traits and genomics  – abstract

Poster presentation

• Sheila Izquieta-Rojano et al.Spanish Scientific Network for LifeWatch-ERIC, e-Science Infrastructure for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Research – abstract

1st Dahlem-type Workshop

LifeWatch ERIC just launched an Internal Joint Initiative (IJI) focusing on the topic of Non-indigenous and Invasive Species (NIS) with the aim of developing new dedicated Virtual Research Environments. The IJI kicked off with the organisation of the LifeWatch ERIC 1st Dahlem-type Workshop: Current and future challenges of NIS in Europe, which took place from 14th to 18th October, in the Casa de la Ciencia, and the V. De Madariaga Foundation, in Seville, Spain. 

The choice of the Dahlem-type1 workshop stems from the desire of the infrastructure to use the most participative interdisciplinary approach in the search for new perspectives to drive the international research agenda on NIS and to involve relevant communities in the development of validation cases. For this reason, experts from different domains – from scientists working in the field of NIS, to ICT specialists and bio-informaticians – gathered in Seville to select the most promising research and management questions, identify the resources and tools available and specify those to be developed.

As a first step, participants identified and clustered the main issues related to NIS and discussed two macro topics, 1) risks and impacts of NIS, and 2) long-term responses of both the NIS and the native communities after invasion. Participants agreed on the development of a general framework to describe and estimate both risks and impacts of NIS (Topic one) and responses from the perspective of both NIS and native communities (Topic two) in the context of climate change. Several validation cases were proposed for each topic to apply this new framework.

On topic one, the suggested validation cases focus on the EU-scale assessment of ecosystem and habitat-type vulnerability to NIS in the context of climate change, including an assessment of sink source dynamics for specific, model, ecosystem types such as harbour ecosystems. On topic two, the chosen validation cases are based on the availability of long-term data series on a number of relevant invaders: (1) Caulerpa taxifolia and racemose; (2) Callinectes sapidus & other Crustaceans; (3) freshwater fishes at a global scale; (4) Mnemiopsis; (5) Rugulopteryx; (6) Ailanthus invasion and response monitoring with satellite images; (7) Metagenomics for invasive species; and (8) early detection of NIS with the metagenomic approach. An additional validation case was also proposed for later collaboration dealing with the risk for human health of NIS as vectors of pathogens.

The  LifeWatch ERIC ICT team’s contribution was to highlight those data resources and services required for the development of the validation cases and to suggest the implementation of an innovative approach, LifeBlock, a LifeWatch ERIC service that for the first time ever applies blockchain technology to biodiversity science. 

As an immediate result of this collaboration, scientists and ICT experts jointly outlined a conceptual paper and designed a workflow that will serve as an organised timeline along which different e-tools have to be developed to help address relevant issues related to NIS for scientists, managers, decision-makers and society.

The next Dahlem-type workshop will take place in Rome from 2nd to 6th December 2019, this time driven and coordinated by the ICT community, to produce a second technical paper and pave the way towards developing the required Virtual Research Environments.


1 A Dahlem-type Workshop is defined as a quest for knowledge through an interdisciplinary communication process aimed at expanding the boundaries of current knowledge, addressing high-priority problems, identifying gaps in knowledge, posing questions aimed at directing future inquiries, and suggesting innovative approaches for solutions. 

ISEM Global Conference 2019

The biennial conference of ISEM, the International Society of Ecological Modellers, is truly global.  From the level of interaction at the LifeWatch ERIC stand in Salzburg, Austria, from 1–5 October, it was clear that that ecologists, modellers and statisticians had come from all over the world, with 52 countries represented.

LifeWatch ERIC was the only infrastructure with a stand at the event, and the tools, services and catalogues available through the LifeWatch ERIC portal were of great interest to the 414 delegates present, all involved in the use of ecological models and systems ecology. 

Thanks to the activities organised at our stand, and the work of LifeWatch ERIC and Italy representatives, many new connections were established with members of community, the modelling one, which is of utmost interest for LifeWatch ERIC and, generally speaking, for biodiversity and ecosystem research. The infrastructure’s capacity to store and curate massive datasets is evidently very attractive to researchers dealing with spatial simulations, economic modelling, ecosystem management and geoinformatics around the world. 

Demonstrations delivered by Alberto Basset, Interim Director of the LifeWatch ERIC Service Centre, and Francesco Cozzoli, LifeWatch Italy/University of Salento, attracted healthy crowds every lunchtime. LifeWatch ERIC demonstrations focused on virtual laboratories and matched the conference theme of “eco:model:spaces”. Delegates inspecting the 130 poster sessions were able to drop in to ask questions.

The Phyto and the Alien Species VREs demonstrations, backed up with leaflets and promotional materials, were complemented by video content on EcoPotential, the European H2020 project using Earth Observations to assist the management of Protected Areas, supported by LifeWatch Italy.