Unravelling Biodiversity in Parque das Serras do Porto

LifeWatch Portugal Biodiversity Day

To celebrate International Biodiversity Day 2022, LifeWatch Portugal and partners are organising a 4-day BioBlitz, from 19–22 May, in collaboration with Vila do Conde – Ciência Viva Center – and the Serras do Porto Natural Park (Parque das Serras do Porto). The first two days will be dedicated to school groups and the weekend will be open to families and adults.

Researchers from the Natural History and Science Museum of the University of Porto (MHNC-UP) and the Research Center in Biodiversity and Genetic Resources (BIOPOLIS/CIBIO-InBIO) are inviting everyone to step out into the wild and unravel the beautiful biodiversity of some of the most iconic natural sites in Northern continental Portugal, in the regions of Valongo, Gondomar and Paredes.

Among the taxonomic groups represented in this LifeWatch Portugal BioBlitz are micromammals, insects, vascular plants, bryophytes, amphibians and reptiles, birds and bats. All activities are free of charge and the data collected will be entered into the BioDiversity4All platform, a member of the iNaturalist Network.

The International Day for Biological Diversity commemorates the adoption of the Convention on Biological Diversity on May 22, 1992, at the Rio Earth Summit. This United Nations-sanctioned international day reminds us that despite all our technological advances, humanity is completely dependent on healthy and vibrant ecosystems for our water, food, medicines, clothes, fuel, shelter and energy, just to name a few. The International Day for Biological Diversity theme for 2022 is “Building a shared future for all life”. The slogan invites the global community to re-examine its relationship with the natural world and emphasises that biodiversity is the answer to sustainable development challenges.

International Women’s Day 2022: Rita Covas

Rita Covas

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. 

A principal researcher at BIOPOLIS/CIBIO-InBIO and an Honorary Research Associate at the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, University of Cape Town, Rita Covas has dedicated her career to the study of biodiversity. She focuses her research on birds and especially social behaviour, with relevant implications for our understanding of the evolutionary concepts of solidarity and cooperation. She has a passion for fieldwork and has authored or co-authored 27 scientific publications.

Covas completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Lisbon, in Portugal, which included a graduation dissertation on the biogeography of Mediterranean birds conducted at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) in Montpellier. After graduating, she was given a BP Conservation Award, to work on the poorly-known seabird community of São Tome and Principe in the Gulf of Guinea, West Africa. In 1998, she moved to Cape Town to start a PhD at the Percy FitzPatrick Institute studying cooperative breeding behaviour in the Sociable Weaver, and afterwards she moved to the University of Edinburgh and started work on the birds from the Gulf of Guinea islands. 

The quality of her work led her to obtain a Marie Curie fellowship to expand her research at the CEFE-CNRS in Montpellier, France. At the end of 2008, she returned to South Africa to re-launch the sociable weaver study, and in 2019 she was awarded an ERC Consolidator Grant to lead her research in the African savannah, with the goal of studying the relationships between species and the way they cooperate.

Covas’ research demonstrates the intrigue of cooperation from an evolutionary perspective; cooperation is beneficial to the group, but has costs for each individual. Despite this, cooperation is prevalent in nature, from microorganisms to human societies. Understanding what enables evolution and maintains cooperation is a fundamental issue in evolutionary biology.

Celebrating European Researchers’ Night 2021

European Researchers' Night 2021

Friday 24 September marked the 2021 edition of European Researchers’ Night (ERN), the Europe-wide event which takes place every year on the last Friday of September. The aim of the initiative is to bring research and researchers closer to the public, displaying the diversity of science and its impact on citizens’ daily lives.

The LifeWatch ERIC Common Facility in Spain celebrated the occasion by taking part in ERN Seville (Spain), setting up its own designated area in the Plaza de San Francisco. Here it presented the SUMHAL Project (Sustainability for Mediterranean Hotspots in Andalusia integrating LifeWatch ERIC), which is supported by the European Regional Development Fund. The core objective of this project is biodiversity conservation in sustainable natural/semi-natural systems of the Western Mediterranean, using high-tech infrastructures. Speakers included Christos Arvanitidis, LifeWatch ERIC CEO, Margarita Paneque, National Research Council of Spain and Delegate for Andalusia and Extremadura, and Juan Miguel González-Aranda, LifeWatch ERIC CTO and ICT-Core Director, in the left-hand photo above.

In Portugal, on the other hand, ERN2021 saw activities taking place in 20 cities, with the active involvement of PORBIOTA, which coordinates LifeWatch Portugal. The Researchers for European Green Growth and Education Consortium, coordinated by the Ciência Viva Agency, together with the Institute for Research & Innovation in Health and the Institute of Chemical and Biological Technology ‘António Xavier’, mobilised 18 science centres, which promoted 78 build-up activities and over 100 activities. Altogether, around 7000 participants of all ages were engaged in the programme.
In turn, Science for Climate, coordinated by the Portuguese National Museum of Natural History and Science of the University of Lisbon, brought together the Universities of Minho, Coimbra and Évora, the University Institute of Lisbon, the Faculty of Sciences and Technology of the Universidade Nova de Lisboa, the Estoril Higher Institute for Tourism and Hotel Studies, and the International Iberian Nanotechnology Laboratory. The partners, several of which belong to PORBIOTA, promoted 7 build-up activities, including a bioblitz, and an open day for school groups, which set up 13 activities in various scientific fields. In addition, an online programme with 90 different activities was promoted, and on the 24 September, an onsite programme with 156 activities took place in Évora, Lisbon, Coimbra and Braga, mobilising a total of 4581 participants. The right-hand photo shows the open night at the Portuguese National Museum of Natural History and Science of the University of Lisbon.

Spatial modelling in Portugal

Spatial Modelling

study from 2012 to 2019 in the Sabor river in northeast Portugal focused on stream fish affected by hydropower development. Trajectory analysis was used to quantify the directionality and velocity of community change across 30 sites, and geometric modelling provided a simple framework to understand where and why temporal community dynamics vary across dendritic stream networks.

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Crowdsourcing platform for Coimbra Herbarium

EXPLORATOR

The Herbarium of the University of Coimbra, Portugal, celebrated its 140th anniversary in 2020, but it is only since 2002 that the collection has been moving online to make sure that these priceless resources will be available to future generations. As the digitisation is a painstakingly slow process, the University has developed a platform to enable citizen scientists to contribute to the transcription of information to the database. The COI Catalogue, as it is known internationally, contains approximately 800,000 specimens, many of which are of great historical interest. The new crowdsourcing platform – EXPLORATOR – allows registered citizens to update the descriptive labels within the database workflow, with which it is fully integrated. The data validated by the platform is progressively added to the master database and therefore made available through the online catalogue. 

EXPLORATOR was developed by the Herbarium COI team within the framework of PORBIOTA, the Portuguese e-Infrastructure for information and research on biodiversity, which manages LifeWatch Portugal. It provides each user with an image and a form to be completed one field at a time. A help icon is available for each field to provide support at every stage of the process. When a value is submitted, the platform verifies whether different values have been submitted for that field and issues an alert for discrepancies.

This validation function allows less experienced citizen scientists working in EXPLORATOR to start with fields that are easily identified and helps them become familiar with the herbarium specimens and the type of information required. When a given number of responses are validated as correct, the user is given access to the next levels which unlock more complex fields.  The architecture therefore encourages learning and greater proficiency, as well as avoiding inadvertent errors.

User proficiency levels determine the assignation of confidence values to the data entered. Validation occurs when the sum of points for a value reaches 60. Answers from an expert user are worth 50 points and those from a basic user are only worth 10, so the same value would have to be submitted by six basic users to equal the work of one expert. As an additional safeguard, manual validation by an administrator is also possible. 

The EXPLORATOR platform currently accounts for 300 registered users and a total of 140,000 submissions, which relate to 36,000 validated fields. As only 12 percent of the catalogue materials have been processed so far, it is hoped that more citizen scientists will step forward and help speed up the work of the PORBIOTA e-infrastructure consortium in storing and managing biodiversity data that is essential for the national agenda for biodiversity research.

Metabarcoding and Metagenomics Conference

The 10th edition of the Trends in Biodiversity and Evolution Conference (TiBE2020), organised by the Research Centre in Biodiversity and Genetic Resources CIBIO- InBIO Associate Laboratory, at the University of Porto, Portugal, was conducted online from 9-11 December, with a focus on Metabarcoding and Metagenomics. 

The availability of ever more powerful DNA sequencing technologies has made possible exploration of the living world in ways that were beyond our imagination just ten years ago. Researchers at all levels came together to discuss the application of metabarcoding and metagenomics to foster new and more cost-efficient environmental assessment and monitoring programs in ecological and environmental research. 

Staged over three afternoons, the programme was divided into three sections: Molecular surveys of biodiversity and invasive species; Next generation biomonitoring of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems; and Understanding species interactions in complex ecosystems. Keynote speakers from France, UK and USA as well as 24 other communications selected from received abstracts. The conference was attended by nearly 200 participants from 24 different countries, and representing over 60 research institutions.

TiBE2020 was also the closing event of the ERA Chair in Environmental Metagenomics – ENVMETAGEN, funded by the European Commission’s H2020 Framework Program, an initiative that enhanced the capacity of InBIO to tackle societal challenges related to the loss of biodiversity, degradation of ecosystem services and sustainable development, at regional, national and international levels.

CIBIO InBIO is part of LifeWatch Portugal. 

TiBE2020 Metabarcoding and Metagenomics

Trends in Biodiversity and Evolution

9-11 December 2020, online. The tenth edition of the Trends in Biodiversity and Evolution (TiBE) conference will be virtual this year and focus on Metabarcoding and Metagenomics. The meeting, held over three afternoons, will discuss exciting developments associated with the advent of ever more powerful DNA sequencing technologies, which are opening possibilities to explore the living world in ways that were unimaginable just a decade ago.

This annual Trends inn Biodiversity and Evolution event is organised by CIBIO-InBIO, the Research Centre in Biodiversity and Genetic Resources, connected through PORBIOTA with LifeWatch Portugal. It brings together senior researchers, post-graduate and graduate students working in the fields of biodiversity and evolutionary biology, to discuss cutting-edge findings in topics related to metabarcoding and metagenomic techniques, and their application in ecological and environmental research. The TiBE2020 conference is jointly organised by the CompBio and ApplEcol research groups. It will be hosted on an online platform that will facilitate networking opportunities and allow poster presentations. The programme, including both plenary and short presentations from selected abstracts, is divided into three sessions:

• Molecular surveys of biodiversity and invasive species

• Next generation biomonitoring of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems

• Understanding species in interactions in complex ecosystems.

Abstracts are invited either as 15-minute oral presentations, or as 2-minute poster videos. Please note that only registered participants will be accepted as presenting authors. Abstract submission deadline is 27 October, 2020. Click here to download the abstract submission template

United for #Biodiversity

The Natural History and Science Museum of the University of Porto (MHNC-UP), including its Botanical Garden and Hall of Biodiversity – Ciência Viva Center – is the first institution from Portugal to become an official member of the European Commission Global Coalition ‘United for #Biodiversity‘, a campaign calling for stronger mobilisation in raising awareness about the need to protect biodiversity.

As a member of LifeWatch PortugalMHNC-UP has joined this global movement to call the attention of world leaders to the pressing need to take immediate and concerted action to protect nature by acting locally and worldwide, and is proud to be one with the 10 institutions (including the Oceanographic Institute of Monaco, Central Park Zoo and Biotopia Munich) and 16 international organisations that have already signed up to this global initiative. Around 500 institutions are expected to take part by the end of 2020.

Launched by EU Commissioner for Environment Virginijus Sinkevicius, the United for #Biodiverstiy coalition calls for strong mobilization of all national research centers, science and natural history museums, botanic gardens, zoos, parks, aquariums and others to make their voices heard about the crisis that nature is facing. At a time when science is warning that 1 million species are at risk of extinction within decades because of human activities, jeopardizing the very future of humanity, there is a critical need to unite all possible forces in the lead up to COP26

The Natural History and Science Museum of the University of Porto’s mission is to promote the advancement and dissemination of knowledge about evolution, diversity and the convergence between the natural and cultural worlds, Its displays seek to stimulate curiosity about both natural and cultural phenomena and contribute to their understanding, fostering a dialogue between the arts, science and technology.  

Ecology Day 2020 in Portugal

Ecology Day

Ecology Day was firstly established in 2016, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the date when Ernst Haeckel coined the term “ecology”. The first event to mark this special date was held in Brussels at the European Parliament that same year, organised by the European Ecological Federation (EEF). From that year on, September 14 has been set as Ecology Day.

Inspired by this celebration in Brussels, the Portuguese Ecological Society (SPECO – Sociedade Portuguesa de Ecology), and the EEF have been promoting the concept since 2017, making the most of generous sponsorship from the UNESCO Portuguese Commission. This annual celebration of Ecology Day now occurs worldwide with the dual purposes of bringing ecology and ecologists closer to society, and  promoting and fostering scientific literacy.

In 2019, Ecology Day stepped up to an international scale, and in 2020 SPECO proposed to EEF the launch of an online platform in which all interested institutions, researchers, associations and others could independently register their activities. This enabled a prompt submission of activities and resources, which were immediately made available to browse. As shown in the map above, this year there were over 150 activities spread across the globe. With a majority of digital, online offerings, the mobilisation towards this date was impressive, especially given the current state of public health worldwide.

In Portugal, Ecology Day 2020 was a big success, with SPECO contributing to events in many municipalities which provided their inhabitants with enriching ecology-related cultural and educational activities. Science centres, museums, universities, LIFE projects, research and educational institutions and environmental protection associations came together to offer the public a wealth of initiatives, such as guided tours (in-person and virtually), exhibitions, debates, seminars, webinars, workshops, challenges, games, short story sessions for children, book presentations, educational videos, murals and illustrations, and scientific articles, among others. The impact of these initiatives will be the subject of an in-depth assessment, whose outcomes will be published as soon as possible.

Bearing in mind that the on-going endorsement of this date by UNESCO depends on the number of initiatives organised, SPECO has been keen to reinforce and promote the events,  and publicise the outcomes. To broaden and consolidate the celebration of this important date, and to highlight the relevance of ecology as an important arm of science, the Portuguese Ecological Society takes this opportunity to encourage all interested parties to start preparations for their contributions in 2021. 

Portuguese Pollinators

Polinizadores de Portugal"

PORBIOTA/LifeWatch Portgual together with a plethora of museums, academic institutions, NGOs, municipalities, schools and other partners in Portugal, is promoting the “Polinizadores de Portugal” initiative to foster public (individual) participation in the collection of distribution data of Portuguese pollinators. 

Polinizadores de Portugal” (Pollinators of Portugal), is a citizen science project launched by CIBIO-InBIO and Parque Biológico de Gaia, and is based on the BioDiversity4All platform, the Portuguese node of the iNaturalist Network. The intention is to better understand the distribution of pollinating species, their rarity and the periods in which flowers are visited. Since January, over 18000 records of more than 1800 species of arthropods have already been submitted. 

The first public campaign took place in May, during the lockdown, when citizens were called on to use a camera or cell phone and register the pollinators that visit flowers at home and surrounding areas, while fully respecting the safety measures in place. Citizens inspected pots on their balconies and in the gardens and more than 5,500 records were gathered in a single month.

Moths and butterflies were the most recorded insects, followed by beetles, flies and the group that includes bees, wasps and ants. 

A new campaign will take place 12-20 September, celebrating Ecology Day on 14 September and International Microorganism Day on 17 September, to help focus attention on the intricate connections between organisms, nature and our daily lives. 

The data recovered comprises mostly information on insects and will be an important contribution to the knowledge and study of the entomofauna of Portugal. It will also constitute a precious tool to assist in the elaboration of the first Red List of Invertebrates in Portugal. Can you help us? We are counting on you too! Here are those links again: BioDiversity4All, and the Launch of the National Citizen Science Project.