Keeping Up with LifeWatch Belgium

LifeWatch Belgium

There’s been a lot going on at LifeWatch Belgium over summer 2022, so please flick through some of our favourite news stories from the LifeWatch Belgium website, where you can find the full versions of these featured articles.

Taxonomy and beyond: ecological trait information in Aphia and WoRMS

In 2018, the WoRMS Steering Committee identified “documenting relevant species traits” as one of the content priorities for WoRMS (hosted by the national focal point for LifeWatch Belgium, VLIZ). The relevance of traits and their integration with the taxonomy of WoRMS however already dates back to 2015, when Costello et al., 2015 prioritised 10 marine species traits to document: Taxonomy, Environment, Geography, Depth, Body size, Substratum, Mobility, Skeleton, Diet and Reproduction.

Taxonomy, which is not actually a trait, is the main goal of WoRMS, and geography and depth are covered by the distribution module in WoRMS. Environment and body size were considered as the most straightforward traits of this list; meaning this information is easy to find rapidly and can be applied across all taxa in WoRMS. Therefore, it was decided to first focus on collecting information for these two traits in WoRMS. For a long time, environment information has been included in WoRMS as the “environment flag”. This flag indicates whether a species is marine, brackish, freshwater and/or terrestrial. In addition, the “functional group” trait documents whether a species belongs to the benthos, plankton, nekton, etc.

Before 2019, both functional group and body size were documented in Aphia and WoRMS to some extent, but not systematically, and not for all species. To complement this trait information, the WoRMS Data Management Team started a “traits data mining exercise” in 2019. Thanks to the positive responses of many editors, environment is now 99.5% complete, functional group 76%, qualitative body size 45%, and quantitative body size 9%. These are the numbers for the accepted species in Aphia. Looking at the accepted, extant, marine species, the numbers are even higher: 100% complete for environment, 81% for functional group, 47% for qualitative body size, and 17% for quantitative body size. More statistics can be found here. Definitions of all traits and values currently available in WoRMS and Aphia can be consulted here. If you want to help in the completion of these traits, please contact info@marinespecies.org.

The Species Information Backbone, the development of which is supported by LifeWatch Belgium, aims at bringing together taxonomic and species-related data.

Original story here. Image credit: Pieterjan Verhelst, image available here.

The LifeWatch Data Cloud has been launched!

The LifeWatch Data Cloud provides an overview of biodiversity and ecosystem data and data products, interactive viewers to interact with the data, an analysis platform (R Studio environment) and code to analyse a variety of data. In the background, the LifeWatch Data Cloud is using the Flemish Supercomputer Center (VSC) resources to provide the users with a performant infrastructure. The initial idea of the LifeWatch Data Cloud was raised during LifeWatch Maritime Industry Advisory Board meetings organised in collaboration with the Blue Cluster, a network of Blue Economy players in Flanders. There was high demand from the maritime industry for a clear and user-friendly platform to consult all data and data products to be able use them for their company-specific applications. Since LifeWatch ERIC offers much more than marine data and tools, and wants to offer this service to other users as well, the cloud was expanded to include terrestrial and freshwater products and is now available to a variety of users.

For the User Day of the Flemish Supercomputer Center (VSC), which took place at Ghent University on 22 May 2022, Lennert Schepers from LifeWatch Flanders presented the LifeWatch Data Cloud and two use cases that are using the LifeWatch Data Cloud: (1) a scientific study that models plankton interactions and (2) the European Tracking Network community that uses the LifeWatch Data Cloud to analyse the movement and migration of aquatic animals at a pan-european scale. The presentation is available here and the aftermovie is available on the website of the VSC.

You are encouraged to try out the LifeWatch Data Cloud for your own applications. Please feel free to contact info@lifewatch.be if you have questions or need help. The LifeWatch Data Cloud was developed by VLIZ in the framework of the Flemish contribution to LifeWatch ERIC (funded by FWO), with support of the Blue Cluster and the Flemish Supercomputer Center (VSC).

Original story here.

Searching for synergies between IMEV and LifeWatch VLIZ

Plankton imagery instruments, deployed in situ or in the lab, can reveal abundance, biomass and size spectra of plankton and marine particles, improving our ability to study plankton community composition and their small-scale spatial distribution. Thanks to technological advancement in imagery, many marine research centres are acquiring an increasing number of instruments and data and are becoming highly specialised in this field. In this situation, collaboration among research stations that are using the same methods, instruments and similar workflows are key to meet a common goal: to produce interoperable and high quality imagery datasets from which biologically and ecologically meaningful plankton observations can be derived.

From 18 – 20 July 2022 a team of plankton imagery specialists from the Laboratoire d’Océanographie de Villefranche (LOV), the Quantitative Imagery Platform (PIQv) and the Center for Planktonic Collections (CCPv) from the Institut de la mer de Villefranche,  Sorbonne Université-CNRS, in France, visited the LifeWatch VLIZ team in Ostend. During the 3-day meeting, both teams shared their expertise, discussed data acquisition, processing and management, identified synergies among their respective projects and future collaborations, among others. It was a very fruitful meeting with action points to follow up in the coming months, until the next time when, hopefully, the team from Ostend will visit Villefranche sur mer. 

Imaging data and sensors acquired at VLIZ are part of the Flemish contribution to LifeWatch ERIC.

Original story here.

New Actiniaria Portal within WoRMS

Actiniaria portal

Actiniaria – or sea anemones – are now accessible through their very own portal within the World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS), an initiative whose data management team is supported by LifeWatch Belgium. The information in the new World List of Actiniaria contains information rescued from the Hexacorallians of the World Database of the late Daphne Fautin, and the portal’s launch is partially linked to the last phase of integrating all information from the Hexacorallians of the World database into WoRMS.

The benefit of this is that this data can now be freely accessible through a solid platform with dedicated maintenance and the promise to stay online indefinitely. A treasure of extra information has been added to the different groups within the Hexacorals in WoRMS, including the addition of 1,842 names, 2,177 original descriptions, 25,312 distributions, 48,649 specimen records and many more additional references and vernaculars. And as the involved editors – Meg Daly & Estefania Rodriguez – also aimed for more visibility for the Actiniaria, a dedicated portal for this group has now been launched, with a very similar look-and-feel as the already existing portal of the World List of Scleractinia.

The data integration is also a contribution to the WoRMS-endorsed project within the UN Ocean Decade, where WoRMS continues to support not only scientists, but everyone who makes use of species names, including policymakers, industry and the public at large. Providing a separate portal for this species group provides it with a wider visibility for a larger audience.

This news item was adapted from an article on the LifeWatch Belgium website.

ZEEKERWETEN, the citizen science festival on the Belgian coastline

Citizen science can play a major role in data collection and processing. LifeWatch Belgium always champions greater collaboration between scientists and citizens because it enhances research and strengthens support among the wider public. The LifeWatch VLIZ initiatives ‘SeaWatch-B’ and the annual ‘Big Seashell Survey’ are good examples of this invaluable citizen-scientists cross-fertilisation. In order to give people a taste of this kind of initiative, on Sunday 8 May 2022, the Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ) organised, with many other partners, the first citizen science festival on the Belgian coastline: ZEEKERWETEN (which translates as “knowing for sure/shore”).

Under the watchful eye of experts, citizens learned tricks and tools to make the invisible life visible, at sea, on the beach, in the dunes, and elsewhere along the coast. In doing so, they got the chance to become real citizen scientists.

Staff from LifeWatch Flanders, INBO and VLIZ involved visitors to their stands in hands-on activities regarding plankton and applied artificial intelligence techniques, differentiating alien shell species from native specimens, tracking seagulls, setting up a camera trap, and recognising and reporting on that most invasive of alien species, the Asian hornet.

The open-air event turned out to be fun and fascinating, for young and old, and helped increase scientific knowledge. With more than 90 experts and volunteers involved, nearly 1,200 citizens were brought closer to science, and went home better able to appreciate what fantastic treasures of biodiversity the coastline holds.

The ZEEKERWETEN citizen science festival was an initiative of LifeWatch Belgium.

WoRMS Video Tutorials available on LifeWatch ERIC Training Platform

WoRMS Tutorial

Last year, the WoRMS Data Management Team (DMT), which is supported by LifeWatch Belgium, created instruction videos for the WoRMS editors, to assist them in their online editing activities. Now, the WoRMS DMT has released a series of short tutorial videos specifically aimed at its users, which have also been made available on the LifeWatch ERIC Training Platform.

Are you sometimes a bit at a loss on how you can find species-related information through the WoRMS website? Maybe you are just curious on how you can efficiently search through the available distributions, specimens or literature in WoRMS? Or you want to match your own species list to WoRMS? Well, this series of 6 short tutorial videos – all under 10 minutes – will guide you through all these ‘how to…’ topics:

  • How to search for taxa in WoRMS, through the quick, simple, and advanced search interfaces
  • How to search for literature in WoRMS
  • How to search for distributions in WoRMS
  • How to search for specimens in WoRMS
  • How to upload images and videos through the WoRMS photo gallery (both without and with login)
  • How to match your taxa to WoRMS using the taxon match tool

Click here to access the videos on our Training Platform.

The creation of these tutorial videos fits under the WoRMS endorsed project within the UN Ocean Decade, where WoRMS continues to support not only scientists, but everyone who makes use of species names, including policy, industry and the public at large.

This news item has been adapted from a post on LifeWatch Belgium.

Big Seashell Survey 2022 shows remarkable differences between Belgium and the Netherlands

Big Seashell Survey

On Saturday 19 March 2022, circa 750 citizens collected over 38,000 shells on Belgian beaches for the Big Seashell Survey 2022, with a top-5 in line with the results of the 2021 edition. For the first time, the Netherlands joined this LifeWatch Belgium citizen science initiative and collected another 22,000 shells, showing remarkable differences between the countries.

The Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ) and its partners (EOS wetenschap, Natuurpunt, Provincie West-Vlaanderen, Strandwerkgroep, Kusterfgoed, the ten coastal municipalities) joined forces for the fifth edition of the Big Seashell Survey, a well-established LifeWatch Belgium citizen science initiative.

On Saturday 19 March, under the bright sunshine, 750 citizens collected, counted and identified 38,000 beach shells, with the help of more than eighty mollusk experts. For the first time, the Netherlands – Naturalis, NMV, Stichting Anemoon, Stichting De Noordzee and the Strandwerkgemeenschap – stepped in and collected another 22,000 shells on seven beaches in the Dutch province of Zuid-Holland and on one Texel beach. In the countries, 60 different species have been registered, with two out of three species shared by Belgium and the Netherlands. Non-indigenous species (NIS) accounted for 10% of all specimens and species.

In addition, scientists discovered remarkable differences between the two countries. Belgium recorded a top-5 comparable to the result of the 2021 edition (Baltic tellin 37%, Cut trough shell 22%, Edible cockle 18%, Blue mussel 9% and Atlantic razor clam 5%), whereas on Dutch beaches there was a clear dominance of Spisula shells, with 49% Cut trough shells, 9% Elliptical trough shells and 6% Thick trough shells. Here, Atlantic razor clams (9%) and the Edible cockle (8%) completed the top-5. One explanation for the high number of Cut trough shells on Dutch beaches could be the slightly different hydrographic conditions with more exposure, in favour of this shell.

Another difference appears to relate to the vicinity of the Scheldt estuary”, says Jan Seys (VLIZ). “The mouth of this estuary, next to the eastern part of the Belgian coast, contains more silt and clay then the sandier Zuid-Holland and Flemish west coasts, and it has quite some peat banks in and on top of the sea-bottom. This silty environment is perfect for the Baltic tellin; the peat banks can house American and white piddocks”. On the Dutch coast, the Baltic tellin ended up in eighth position, accounting for only 2% of all shells. And in the Netherlands, Barnea candida did not end up in the top-10, whereas piddocks at the eastern part of the Belgian coast were much more common (9% of all shells).”

This news story was originally posted on LifeWatch Belgium.

Ten remarkable new marine species from 2021

Top Ten WoRMS

As in previous years, the World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS), an initiave hosted by VLIZ, LifeWatch Belgium‘s focal point, has released its annual list of its top-ten marine species described by researchers during the past year, marking World Taxonomist Appreciation Day on 19 March!

If you were unaware of this celebration of all the work that taxonomists do, you can find more herehere, and here.

The 2021 top-ten list is just a small highlight of over 2,000 fascinating new marine species discovered every year (there were 2,241 marine species described in 2021 and added to WoRMS, including 263 fossil species).

Full list:
How were the species chosen?

A call for nominations was announced in December 2021, sent to all editors of WoRMS and editors of major taxonomy journals, and posted openly on the WoRMS website and social media so anyone had the opportunity to nominate their favourite marine species. Nominated species had to have been described in 2021, and come from the marine environment (including fossil taxa). A small committee (including both taxonomists and data managers) was brought together to decide upon the final candidates. The list is in no hierarchical order.

The final decisions reflect the immense diversity of animal groups in the marine environment (including fish, crustaceans, molluscs, corals, sponges, jellies and worms) and highlight some of the challenges facing the marine environment today. The final candidates also feature some particularly astonishing marine creatures, notable for their interest to both science and the public.

Each of these marine animals has a story. This year the chosen species range from the extremely tiny and often overlooked, to a new species of whale! Among the featured is the tiny Japanese Twitter Mite, discovered on social media, the Quarantine Shrimp, described during the COVID-19 lockdown, a new species of mysid hiding in plain sight, the massive Yokozuna Slickhead, honouring high ranking sumo wrestlers, and the astonishing Jurassic Pig-Nose Brittle Star!

About the WoRMS top-ten list of Marine Species

After 250 years of describing, naming and cataloguing the species we share our planet with, we are still some way off from achieving a complete census. However, we do know that at least 240,000 marine species have been described because their names are managed in WoRMS, by almost 300 scientists located all over the world.  

WoRMS’ previous lists of the top-ten marine species described for the decade 2007–2017, for 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020 can be found here:

This news item was adapted from a post on LifeWatch Belgium.

LifeWatch Belgium initiative, WoRMS, partners with International Seabed Authority to support UN Ocean Decade

WoRMS ISA

The collaboration between ISA, the International Seabed Authority, and WoRMS (the World Register of Marine Species, which is hosted by VLIZ, the focal point of LifeWatch Belgium) will reinforce the quality of deep-sea taxonomic information and data contained in the ISA DeepData database, in support of United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development.


A fundamental element of the mandate assigned to ISA by UNCLOS, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, is to disseminate the results of all research undertaken through open and transparent data and information sharing. ISA also organises access to non-confidential information and data, in particular data relating to the marine environment. It is in this context that ISA and WoRMS have agreed to cooperate, with a view to make use of the comparative advantage of their respective information systems, thanks to periodic scientific reviews between DeepData and WoRMS’ thematic subregister, the World Register of Deep-Sea Species (WoRDSS).

ISA and WoRMS will also work together to provide training for ISA data providers and users of taxonomic data, and enable the development of innovative taxonomic tools with a view to standardising data exchange protocols and promoting the use of biodiversity information for scientific research in the international seabed area. This partnership will also contribute to LifeWatch ERIC, specifically through the LifeWatch Species Information Backbone, which aims to bring together taxonomic and species-related data and to fill knowledge gaps, and is the driving force behind the species information services of the Belgian LifeWatch.be e-Lab.

WoRMS has been endorsed as an Ocean Decade project, and will continue to build on its expertise to support global efforts towards enhanced understanding of taxonomic information of all marine life in support of scientific research, policy making and increased general public knowledge.


This story was adapted from a post on LifeWatch Belgium.
[image provided by the International Seabed Authority, credits: (c) Gilles Martin / IFREMER]

International Women’s Day 2022: Marie-Anne Libert

Marie-Anne Libert

For International Women’s Day 2022, we at LifeWatch ERIC are putting eight scientists in the spotlight. Each of the LifeWatch ERIC member states has proposed a figure who has broken boundaries over the course of her lifetime, and is an inspiration to younger generations looking to pursue a career in STEM.

As we explored in the podcast we recorded for The International Day of Women and Girls in Science, women are still underrepresented in various scientific fields, such as engineering, computer science and AI. Additionally, scientific research in general is not only unbalanced in terms of composition (33% female) but also in terms of hierarchy, with only 12% of national science academy members being women, who are disproportionately overlooked when it comes to promotion and grants.

The women at the centre of our campaign are very diverse, hailing from a range of countries and time periods, but they all have one thing in common: overcoming the odds in order to contribute to scientific improvement. We want to draw attention to just a fraction of the women who have defied the cultural barriers pitted against them to bring good to the world, and bring recognition where they might have been overlooked. 

Marie-Anne Libert was born in 1782 to a large family in Malmedy, now Belgium. She was a prolific author of fungal taxa, becoming the second woman formally to name a fungal taxon in the modern scientific era, and describing over 200 novel taxa during her lifetime.

While women were not admitted to Belgian universities for a hundred years after her birth, Libert’s father recognised his daughter’s academic potential and made sure she received an education. Upon return, Libert taught herself Latin so that she could read the many books about plants written in this language, inspired by the flora of her native town. Libert’s first new fungal taxon—Asteroma rosae—was a leaf spot (Libert 1827c) and she was the first to name to species the fungal cause of potato murrain, commonly known as potato blight. In a letter to the Journal de Liège, Libert ascribed the cause of the devastating potato blight recently observed in Belgium to a fungus, providing details of hyphae and spores as observed under the microscope. Her naming of pathogenic fungi contributed to a growing awareness among botanists that fungi were a major cause of plant diseases, and to the beginnings of the new discipline that became known as plant pathology.

She was well-regarded by her scientific peers, and in recognition of her contributions to mycology, Libert was elected an associate member of the Linnean Society of Paris in 1820, and awarded a gold medal of merit by Emperor Friedrich-Wilhelm III. At a scientific congress in Liège in 1836, she was unanimously elected president of the natural sciences section, and special note was made of the fact that she had ‘carried out her work without benefit of being close to any large scientific centre or even to a large library’. In 1862, she became the first woman invited to join the Royal Botanic Society of Belgium. Four genera were named after Libert during her lifetime, as well as three after her death, and she was also honoured in the name of a street in Malmedy in 1925.

This text was largely adapted from Naming names: the first women taxonomists in mycology, by Sara Maroske and Tom W. May.

What a racket! Comparing the soundscapes of the Gulf of Tribugá and the North Sea

Marine soundscapes

This story was originally published on LifeWatch Belgium.

A new LifeWatch Belgium paper compares two different marine soundscapes: the Gulf of Tribugá in Colombia and the the Belgian Part of the North Sea (BPNS). This study is of great importance as a general marine soundscape baseline in order to map possible future disturbances of port construction or to evaluate whether policy measures taken are effective. The comparison shows that biophony dominates the Gulf ot Tribugá while anthropophony is dominant in the BPNS.

The “soundscape” of an ecosystem is defined as the characterisation of all the acoustic sources present in a certain place. A soundscape includes three fundamental sound source types: (1) anthropophony, or sounds associated with human activity; (2) biophony, or sounds produced by animals; and (3) geophony, or sounds generated by physical events such as waves, earthquakes, or rain. Studying soundscapes can provide information for a specific habitat, which could then be linked to ecosystem health status and other bioindicators. This information can be used to monitor the habitat over time, allowing for rapid detection of habitat degradation, such as in response to human-driven events. To do so, underwater recorders (hydrophones) are placed in different locations and are set to record broadband acoustic signals.

The paper describes two regions with vastly different marine soundscapes, characterised by extremely different shipping densities. The first study region, the Gulf of Tribugá, Colombia, is less affected by human activities. It serves as a general marine soundscape baseline for comparison with possible future disturbances from port construction and operation. By contrast, the second study region, the Belgian Part of the North Sea (BPNS) is located in a more disturbed area of very exploited shallow waters. Its baseline is being used to monitor the effects of noise reduction policies. The comparison shows that biophony dominates the Gulf ot Tribugá while anthropophony dominates the BPNS.

Read the whole paper via this link.

Image credit: Maria Paula Rey Baquero (Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Colombia) 

Hiring: Scientific Collaborator for BopCo project 

BopCo

LifeWatch Belgium consortium members RBINS (Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences) and the RMCA (Royal Museum for Central Africa) are looking for a Scientific Collaborator to join the LifeWatch BopCo project.

A postdoctoral researcher position is now open within the project “BopCo: A barcoding facility for organisms and tissues of policy concern“. The position will be administratively managed by RBINS, but functionally shared by RBINS and RMCA. The contract is for 1 year and applications must be submitted by 7 February 2022.

BopCo is an initiative of the Belgian Federal Science Policy Office (BELSPO), the main activity of which consists of providing scientific services concerning the DNA identification of socially and policy-relevant organisms at the request of governments, companies, NGOs, associations and the general public.

For more details about the vacancy and how to apply: