LifeWatch Belgium Users & Stakeholders Meeting

Users & Stakeholders Meeting

LifeWatch Belgium: a highly innovative infrastructure for biodiversity research

The 2nd edition of the LifeWatch Belgium Users & Stakeholders Meeting was organised at the Royal Belgium Institute of Natural Sciences (RBINS) in Brussels to report on progress, on 19 November, 2019. This event was open to all users and stakeholders connected with the infrastructure and attracted a total of 74 participants from a multitude of Belgian research institutes, universities and policy bodies. It turned out to be an interesting and insightful meeting, much like the first.

The day started with Philip Van Avermaet from the EWI Department sharing his views on how research infrastructures such as LifeWatch can be at the service of science. Next, Christos Arvanitidis, LifeWatch ERIC CEO, explained the mission of and recent developments within the European infrastructure. Klaas Deneudt from the Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ) then presented how LifeWatch Belgium is supporting science, industry, policy and civil society. Through the remainder of the day, a number of use cases showcased the versatility of LifeWatch Belgium in more detail.

Policy supporting use cases:

• If life was simple… GPS tracking data provides new insight in the use of offshore wind farms by Lesser Black-backed Gulls (Eric Stienen, INBO)

• Transboundary Land Cover Dataset for Nature Protection (Corentin Rousseau, WWF)

• Surveillance of mosquitoes and other blood-sucking arthropods that can act as human disease vectors during foreign deployments of Belgian Defense (Leen Wilmaerts, Medical Component of the Belgian Armed Forces)

• How the LifeWatch Species Information Backbone supports global fisheries policies and management (Lennert Schepers, VLIZ)

Industry supporting use cases:

• Using bird remains identification at the Belgian Air Force to improve flight safety (Commandant Serge Sorbi, Wildlife Hazard Management Office, Belgian Air Force – Aviation Safety Directorate (ASD))

• Gathering ecological data on movement behaviour of Atlantic cod in support of gas and oil industry (Jan Reubens, VLIZ)

Science supporting use cases:

• Tracking of marine predators in the Southern Ocean (Anton Van de Putte, RBINS)• CATREIN: CAmera Trap REsearch INfrastructure in support of a growing number of wildlife related research projects (Jim Casaer, INBO)

• High resolution mapping of population dynamics in breeding birds in Wallonia (Antoine Derouaux, NATAGORA)

The last presentation of the day was dedicated to biodiversity and ecosystem research by LifeWatch connections in Sweden, and the proceedings ended with a panel discussion about the use and value of LifeWatch for science, policy and industry.

2nd Dahlem-Type Workshop

2nd Dahlem-Type Workshop

The LifeWatch ERIC Internal Joint Initiative was launched in October 2019 to design and construct a Virtual Research Environment capable of processing and modelling available data on one of the planet’s most burning biodiversity issues, the proliferation of Non-indigenous and Invasive Species (NIS), in order to help mitigate their impacts. 

Development of a new Virtual Research Environment (VRE) is essential to further integrate the tools and services available in the LifeWatch ERIC web portal. The process will allow stakeholders greater ability to develop their research activities within the e-Science Infrastructure, whilst also clearly demonstrating the added value that LifeWatch ERIC’s advanced technologies can bring not only to the biodiversity and ecosystem scientific community, but to policymaking and human wellbeing around the globe. 

The conceptual paper and workflow-timeline developed at the 1st Dahlem-type workshop in Seville, Spain, 14-18 October, formed the basis of this 2nd Dahlem-type Workshop, organised in Rome, Italy, from 2-6 December, this time coordinated by the LifeWatch ERIC CTO, Juan Miguel González-Aranda. This 2nd Dahlem-type workshop delivered the first prototype of the new LifeWatch ERIC Non-indigenous and Invasive Species Virtual Research Environment. The collaborative construction and deployment approach and the intense interaction between ICT and NIS experts made it possible to achieve definition of the requirements and needs of the scientific community and of the main architecture layers (application, e-Services composition, e-infrastructure integration, and resources) that underpin the VRE. 

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. 

LifeWatch ERIC Internal Joint Initiative

Non-indigenous and Invasive species (NIS) are considered a major threat to biodiversity around the globe: they can impact ecosystems in many ways by outcompeting or predating on native species. Who has not heard of the Burmese pythons in Florida that eat alligators? The negative impact of imported rats and cats that have decimated island fauna populations? However, the long-term impacts of NIS on ecosystem integrity are poorly explored, and policy-makers are often left without sufficient information to make wise management decisions.

In the belief that the first steps in tackling biodiversity loss must be to improve our knowledge by developing better inter-disciplinary paradigms, LifeWatch ERIC is launching an exciting new Internal Joint Initiative (IJI), involving the scientific communities of National Nodes and other European Research Infrastructures, that will thoroughly describe the issues involved in ecosystem and habitat type vulnerability, and produce future scenarios under changing vectors to help decision-makers combat the impacts of climate change. 

The LifeWatch ERIC Internal Joint Initiative will combine data, semantic resources, data management services, and data analysis and modelling from its seven member countries – Belgium, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain – to bring together national assets on a scale never attempted before. This integration of Common Facilities and National Nodes will provide the comprehensive and synthetic knowledge so much needed by institutions and administrators.

By deploying and publishing on the LifeWatch ERIC web portal the federated resources and e-Tools and e-Resources, the Internal Joint Initiative will also define the requirements and architecture of the LifeWatch ERIC virtual research environments, and provide a clear demonstration of the Infrastructure’s added value for researchers in addressing specific biodiversity and ecosystem management issues. 

Non-indigenous and Invasive Species are a global problem. They are distributed among most plant and animal taxa, and present a number of key issues that remain challenging for both researchers and policy-makers. The knowledge produced by the Internal Joint Initiative will thus be of global significance. It is to be hoped that this demonstration case will be seen to have scientific and socio-economic implications for many different fields of investigation over the coming decades.

CEO visit to LifeWatch Belgium

The LifeWatch General Assembly (GA) invited the newly appointed LifeWatch ERIC Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Christos Arvanitidis, to visit all national LifeWatch nodes. The first step on this tour was Belgium, so on Tuesday 18 June our CEO, accompanied by Juan Miguel González-Aranda, interim Chief Technical Officer (CTO) of LifeWatch ERIC, visited LifeWatch Belgium, at the premises of a principal partner, the Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ). 

LifeWatch ERIC is a geographically distributed infrastructure consisting of three common facilities (the Statutory Seat & ICT Core, the Service Centre and the VLab & Innovation Centre), and several Distributed Centres which contribute with in-kind activities on top of the states’ in-cash contributions. Therefore, LifeWatch CEO’s visits are of a particular importance as they are truly an opportunity to reinforce the level of engagement and synergy of National Centres within the Infrastructure and in its core activities.

At the heart of this visit, the LifeWatch ERIC CEO stated there is the need to set a general framework in formalising a Service Level Agreement (SLA) between LifeWatch Belgium and LifeWatch ERIC, thus providing a first example.

Each national Distributed Centre needs to develop and sign an SLA with LifeWatch ERIC. Each SLA shall detail the functional relationship between each national node and LifeWatch ERIC: what in-kind contributions the Distributed Centre is offering and where the Distributed Centre fits into the organisational structure and the Strategic Plan of LifeWatch ERIC. 

“It has truly been a pleasure for me coming to Belgium today,” the CEO added, “LifeWatch ERIC would not be the same without the huge efforts of LifeWatch Belgium and I am glad to have had the chance to meet with the people who are working hard every day to make it possible. My special thanks go to our current GA chair, Gert Verreet, (Department of Economy, Science and Innovation – EWI), for his dedication and commitment”.

Towards a cultural change | First LifeWatch ERIC Scientific Community Meeting

The Scientific Community Meeting held in Rome from 27  29 May 2019 was designed to bring together the wider LifeWatch ERIC scientific communities of researchers and developers to generate and advance the discussion of the most promising lines of scientific development. In the view of the conference coordinator, Alberto Basset, Interim Director of the LifeWatch ERIC Service Centre in Lecce and Professor of Ecology at the University of Salento, the 3-day event hosted by the Italian National Research Council, leader of the Italian contribution to the infrastructure, “was a great success”.

A truly international event, the meeting boasted 150 participants from 12 different countries which, thanks to the contributions given by LifeWatch ERIC Common Facilities and National Nodes (Belgium, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain), delivered to its participants a rich programme featuring 20 plenary sessions and 40 presentations in working sessions. The Scientific Community Meeting was the first of its kind and ended in widespread positive feedback and calls for greater interdisciplinary cooperation.

The three days were structured around the three complimentary strands of Biodiversity & Ecosystem TheoryMarine Biodiversity & Ecosystem Functioning, and Data, Modelling & Supporting Disruptive Technologies. There was widespread appreciation of the e-Science capabilities that LifeWatch ERIC provides, and agreement that the architecture is flexible with a user-friendly interface.

Many technologies and innovative case studies were also on display: from remote sensor monitoring of fauna and flora populations, to collecting data on marine life. But beyond gizmos, the working groups ended up agreeing on the need for collaboration, to work across borders and to use metadata to create user stories that everyone can relate to, to create greater common understanding.

Over these three days in Rome, LifeWatch ERIC has moved closer to identifying major gaps in scientific knowledge that need to be addressed, has emphasised key societal challenges that biodiversity and ecosystem science are required to address, gathered indications of the services and VRE developments that user communities need, proposed innovative approaches, like the use of blockchain, and has identified the need to reinforce collaboration and trust. 

LifeWatch ERIC CEO, Christos Arvanitidis, closed proceedings by saying that the processes of life on this planet are complex; that we need complex infrastructures to model and understand that complexity, a task which no country can do alone; and that the scientific community has a responsibility to answer global concerns about climate change. He concluded, “We will use all our arsenal to integrate everything we have and try to give a synthetic knowledge to many more recipients, so we can make a proper response to society. All disciplines need to come together with open communication.”

You can find all of the presentations from the meeting on the minisite:

LifeWatch Belgium

Belgium contributes to LifeWatch with varied and complementary “in-kind” contributions. These are implemented under the form of long-lasting projects by different research centers and universities spread over the country and supported by each respective political authority.

In a nutshell, access to regional and global biodiversity data systems is facilitated by means of several data services (Belgian LifeWatch E-lab), data publication to (Eur)OBIS and GBIF,  marine and non-marine data archaeology and the construction of a local marine-freshwater-terrestrial observatory.

central Taxonomic Backbone combines taxonomic, biogeographical, trait and genomic data and disseminates this via web services.

LifeWatch Belgium is also the driving force behind the LifeWatch Marine Virtual Research Environment (VRE), the gateway to marine data resources and services related to the European LifeWatch infrastructure.

Four ecosystem dynamic descriptors are derived from satellite images. Their weekly average profiles are calculated at an European scale. Furthermore, a database describing homogeneous units of the landscape, ecotopes, has been developed. is building an Antarctic Biodiversity Information System (AntaBIS), as a thematic LifeWatch virtual laboratory.

The Barcoding facility for Organisms and tissues of Policy Concern (BopCo) project is setting up a virtual laboratory that uses molecular techniques to identify unknown biological material to species/population level.

Ph. Credits Photo Gallery / Vlaams Instituut voor de Zee (VLIZ)

LifeWatch ERIC and EMSO ERIC sign MoU

LifeWatch ERIC & EMSO ERIC sign MoU

LifeWatch ERIC and the European Multidisciplinary Seafloor and Water-Column Observatory (EMSO ERIC) recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to strengthen cooperation between the two infrastructures. They have agreed to join forces in designing and implementing ambitious joint research projects and collaborative initiatives, which will result in positive outcomes for the both related research areas. The MoU was signed by Jesús Miguel Santamaría, for LifeWatch ERIC, and Juanjo Dañobeitia, for EMSO ERIC.

With the MoU, LifeWatch ERIC and EMSO ERIC commit to fostering the use of common standards and protocols, exploring opportunities to further promote common free open access data and software policy, and advancing interoperability. They will establish synergies with the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC), Copernicus and other pan European-international programmes and initiatives, and identify and implement collaborative projects of mutual interest. 

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In greater detail, the two infrastructures will collaborate on the definition, development and integration of new parameters, instruments and methods for multi-disciplinary observation, addressing either biotic or abiotic parameters. They will also initiate joint actions to promote Ocean Literacy, and launch the new Citizen Science programmes.

Moreover, LifeWatch ERIC and EMSO ERIC will work together to lobby and advise government policy makers and funding bodies on environmental Grand Challenges themes, reinforce industry liaisons, and establish a mechanism to secure their continued maintenance and improvement of cooperation to meet common goals.

LifeWatch ERIC and EMSO ERIC are already operational and working to establish within the next three months, as a first step, a Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC), which will draft an action plan identifying specific research or technology development areas for collaboration.

ABOUT LifeWatch ERIC  

LifeWatch ERIC is a European Infrastructure Consortium that provides e-Science research facilities to scientists who seek to increase our knowledge and deepen our understanding of Biodiversity organisation and Ecosystem functions and services. It is a distributed research infrastructure with central components, Common Facilities, located in three Member States, and national branches in six countries.

LifeWatch ERIC’s purpose is to tackle the constraints affecting research activities and the pressing need for increasingly diverse data sets and larger and more advanced models. Through the use of open data and open science clouds, LifeWatch ERIC makes it possible to explore new frontiers in ecological science and support society in addressing the challenges ahead. LifeWatch ERIC avails itself of High-Performance, Grid and Big Data computing systems, and develops advanced modelling tools to implement management measures aimed at preserving life on Earth.

Contact details

Sara Montinaro
+39 0832 29 48 18


The European Multidisciplinary Seafloor and water-column Observatory (EMSO) is a European Research Infrastructure Consortium (ERIC) which provides data infrastructure for continuous, high-resolution, (near-)real-time, ocean observations across a multidisciplinary range of research including biogeochemical, physics, engineering, and computer science. EMSO – a large-scale environmental European Research Infrastructure (RI) on the ESFRI Roadmap – analyses the water column from the surface down to the abyss and the sub-seafloor, and from polar to subtropical environments. It has eight deep-sea and three shallow Regional Facilities, deployed across the North Atlantic and through the Mediterranean to the Black Sea. EMSO makes fundamental contributions to our understanding of key environmental processes like climate change, marine biodiversity and natural hazards, and in the long-term vision of creating the European Ocean Observing System (EOOS) will play a key role providing on site observations for the COPERNICUS earth observation program.

Contact details

Alessandra Giuntini
+39 06 51860644

WoRMs: 10 new marine species from 2018

This year, the World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS), a prominent component of the LifeWatch Species Information Backbone, has released its list of the top-ten marine species of 2018 to coincide with World Taxonomist Appreciation day – 19 March! 

Every day in labs, museums, out on fieldwork, taxonomists are busy collecting, cataloguing, identifying, comparing, describing and naming species new to science. Some 300 taxonomists globally also contribute their valuable time to keeping the World Register of Marine Species up to date. Today, WoRMS thanks its taxonomic editors for this important task, celebrating the work of taxonomists now with the WoRMS list of the top-ten marine species described in 2018 as nominated and voted for by taxonomists!

This top-ten list is just a small highlight of almost 2,000 fascinating new marine species discovered every year. Check LifeWatch Belgium website for more info.

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

LifeWatch ERIC Data Centres Working Meeting


Biodiversity and the functioning of ecosystems, including those precious services sustaining our life and our societies, are at risk, affecting the ecological sustainability of our Planet, our well-being and our future.

LifeWatch ERIC, the European e-Science Infrastructure of Biodiversity and Ecosystem research ( has organised a meeting in Ljubljana, on 13–14 December 2019, discussing with representatives of Common Facilities, National Nodes and the wider Slovenian scientific community and partners in the LifeWatch Slovenia consortium on the vision, mission and operational priorities of the research infrastructure. The ambition was to deploy the proper e-Infrastructure to scientists in order to build the science-based knowledge needed by all stakeholders, including local communities, in order to address these key global challenges.

The meeting has been focused on biodiversity and ecosystem data management, since the data already available, and big data, that are going to be collected through new technologies and the work of thousands of scientists in Europe, are the foundation to build the new knowledge required within the context of climate changes and biodiversity loss. However, it is necessary that Open Science becomes a reality and proper tools, allowing scientists to find, access, integrate, re-use and analyse the data already collected by the scientific community, actually developed and made available. These issues and the organisation of Distributed Data Centres on biodiversity and ecosystem research have been discussed in the meeting with the contribution of scientists from Belgium, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Slovenia LifeWatch Nodes, as well as from other environmental research infrastructures, particularly researchers also contributing to DiSSCo, Distributed Systems for Scientific Collections.

The meeting has also highlighted the global relevance of the scientific research of the Slovenian Institutions on biodiversity and ecosystems to address these global challenges from experience on model ecosystem types distributed at the Biosphere scale and relevant in the context of climate change.