ZEEKERWETEN, the citizen science festival on the Belgian coastline

Zeekerweten citizen science

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:

Mapping Eel Migration Routes

Mapping Eel Migration Routes

This story was originally posted on LifeWatch Belgium.

With the use of 96 data loggers, scientists of the Research Institute for Nature and Forest (INBO), Ghent University and the Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ) succeeded in mapping the migration routes of eels in the North Sea. The results show that the majority of Belgian eels migrate through the English Channel. Although this seems the logical thing to do, some choose to migrate over Scotland. The reason for these different choices is still under study; the eels are probably guided by certain sea currents.

The European eel has one of the most impressive and complex life cycles in the animal kingdom. They grow in our rivers, but need to migrate at least 7000 m to the spawning grounds in the Atlantic Ocean. The exact location of and the migration routes to these spawning grounds are after millennia of research still poorly known.

Researchers from the INBOGhent University and VLIZ attached data logging devices to eels to map their migration routes in the North Sea. Pieterjan Verhelst from the INBO: “These data logging devices measure water temperature and depth during the eel’s migration route. After some time, the devices detach from the eel, drift to the sea surface and hopefully wash ashore. Whoever found such a device and sent it back to us was awarded €50. As such, we could download the data and calculate the eel’s trajectory.”

Successful findings
From the 320 deployed data loggers 96 (30%) were retrieved. The majority were found near the bay of Mont-Saint-Michel (France), but substantial numbers were also retrieved along the southern coasts of the UK and the Netherlands.

Whales and sharks
The route was not without danger. Marine predators like whales and sharks ate eleven of our eels. In some cases we were even able to identify the culprit to species level (a pilot whale and a porbeagle shark) based on the species-specific body temperature (after predation the data logger was inside the predator) and the diving pattern.

Bit by bit
Although we couldn’t track the eels until their spawning locations, these results are a valuable contribution to the already known routes (for example the route from Norway over the UK and the route through the Mediterranean Sea). Putting the pieces of the puzzle together on one map, we gradually get a total picture of the various eel migration routes. The final 3000 km to the spawning sites, however, is still shrouded in mystery and require further research.

For more info, contact Pieterjan Verhelst (Research Institute for Nature and Forest)

Catalogue of Life turns 20

Catalogue of Life

The Catalogue of Life (COL) is the result of international collaboration, providing researchers, policymakers, environmental managers, and the wider public with a consistent and up-to-date index of the names of all the world’s known species. COL originated in 2001 as a partnership between the organisations Species 2000 and the Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS), and is now curated by an international community of 165 taxonomic data sources. In 2021, the COL turned 20, and with the release of the 2021 Annual Checklist (Bánki et al. 2021, July, 2021), has reached just over 2 million accepted species names.

Over the past years LifeWatch Belgium, as part of the COL governance, has been overhauling its digital infrastructure. The new infrastructure, powered by GBIF, functions more efficiently, is on the path to better facilitate the work of the taxonomic community, and provides a more sustainable service for users at all scales. It consists of a public portal, a ChecklistBank, and a new API. Another of its new features is that it provides stable taxon name identifiers. The intent is to create more opportunities to address taxonomic and scientific name gaps associated with the COL Checklist, which will enable the transformation of the COL Checklist to serve as the GBIF Backbone Taxonomy in the future. In the next few years, together with the taxonomic community at large, COL would like to address the apparent taxonomic gaps that still exist in the Checklist. 

COL is a wonderful example of a cost effective, functional research infrastructure that was brought to life by true international collaboration, focus, and persistence of dedicated people offering their time to make it work. COL invites everyone who has an interest to become part of the effort!

The full article can be found on the LifeWatch Belgium website.