LifeWatch Slovenia Publishes New Research Paper

LifeWatch Slovenia Research

Researchers affiliated with LifeWatch Slovenia have published the research paper: “Karst Groundwater Dependent Ecosystems—Typology, Vulnerability and Protection” (Nataša Ravbar, Tanja Pipan). You can read the abstract below and click on the link to access it in full.

Karst Groundwater Dependent Ecosystems—Typology, Vulnerability and Protection

Nataša Ravbar, Tanja Pipan

Karst groundwater dependent ecosystems (KGDEs) represent an important asset worldwide due to their ecological and socioeconomic values. In the contribution the main KGDEs of the Dinaric karst in Slovenia are presented. The main hydrological processes (i.e., extent, duration and frequency of groundwater inflow), the main biota and indicator communities, and the factors limiting the evolution of species (e.g., darkness) were identified. An overview of rare, endemic and charismatic species was also shown including Proteus anguinus, Marifugia cavatica, Monolistra racovitzae racovitzae and others. Due to its location in an area of very high geographical diversity and between different climate types, the Slovenian Dinaric karst is one of the hotspots of subterranean biodiversity on a global scale. The interaction between orographic, climatic, hydrological and edaphic conditions, as well as the fact that the area served as a hub for different species and as a refuge during the ice ages, are crucial for the very high biodiversity in this area. Due to deforestation in prehistoric times, man has even contributed to the diversification of the flora by creating space for the appearance or spread of habitats that are now considered natural (e.g., dry grasslands). An important factor in maintaining a particularly rich diversity of karst flora and fauna is also the low human impact and the very well preserved landscape in its natural state. KGDE sites in Slovenia with the greatest known species diversity are the Postojna -Planina and Škocjanske Jame cave systems, Cerkniško and Planinsko Polje, and the intermittent lakes of Pivka. Characterization of KGDEs is a prerequisite for a better understanding of the processes that control them, their biological function, and their vulnerability. The ecohydrological characterization of KGDEs of Slovenian Dinaric karst can serve as a pilot study for other karst regions with high biodiversity.

Photo credit: B Kogovšek, N Ravbar, Adobe Stock.

International Women’s Day 2022: Angela Piskernik

Angela Piskernik

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. 

Angela Piskernik, born in 1886, was a botanist, the first Slovenian conservationist and the first Slovenian woman to receive a doctorate in biological sciences. She was internationally renowned for her conservationist work, responsible for the establishment of the Triglav National Park, amongst many more feats.

She studied at the University of Vienna, specialising in biological systematics and graduating with a dissertation entitled “Plasma compounds in mosses”. She went on to teach in secondary schools from 1926 to 1943, when she was imprisoned for two years in the Ravensbrück Nazi concentration camp. Afterwards, she became director of the Natural History Museum in Ljubljana, where she worked until she retired in 1953. Her retirement, however, marked the beginning of some of her most famous work – becoming the first professional nature conservation officer, noted for her involvement in the restoration and protection of the Julian Alpine Botanical Garden in Trenta and the establishment of the Triglav National Park in 1961. Her lasting achievements as a nature conservation officer also included preparations for the legal protection of several other landscape parks, initiating the protection of the first nature reserves in Slovenia.

In addition, Piskernik proposed the establishment of a mountain guard in 1954, was active in the International Alpine Commission and edited the journal ‘Nature Protection’. She was part of the Slovenian Natural History Society and Association of Society for the Protection of Birds, as well as several international nature conservation associations such as IUCN and VNP. For her long and active involvement in this organisation, she was made an honorary member of the International Commission for the Protection of Alpine Regions (CIPRA) after her death in 1967. Over her lifetime, she published 42 scientific papers on nature conservation. She received the Van Tienhoven International Award for her work, as well as an award from the Friderich-Wilhelm University in Bonn.

Other special honours include the naming of a prize after her by the Natural History Society of Slovenia, which is given to individuals who have shown outstanding services to the protection of natural heritage, as well as the issue of a commemorative stamp with her image in 2019.

Completion of RI-SI-LifeWatch Project

RI-SI-LifeWatch

In December 2019, the “Development of research infrastructure for the international competitiveness of the Slovenian RRI space – RI-SI-LifeWatch” project was granted by the Slovenian Ministry of Education, Science and Sport and the European Regional Development Fund. The aim of the project was for the LifeWatch Slovenia consortium to build a network for monitoring and collecting biodiversity and environmental data obtained and processed through the acquisition of high-performance research equipment. 

With the help of the new research equipment from the RI-SI-LifeWatch project, the Slovenian consortium is now collecting a large amount of research data in digital form, which will be included in the national Karst database, harmonised with FAIR principles and designed to provide a temporal and spatial link between specific sites.

The LifeWatch Slovenia Data Centre has also been established and consists of very powerful server and computer units. Although it is still in an early stage of development, the current functionality of LifeWatch Slovenia Data Centre is beginning to collect the various large datasets obtained with the new instruments and catalogue their metadata within a GeoNetwork portal to build a standardised database with system management and user interface for data mining and access to data products. The architecture of the new data centre proposes to replicate the functionality and standards of LifeWatch ERIC to be compliant with FAIR data principles and data lifecycle. Data collected by RI-SI-LifeWatch’s equipment will support the development of data and services planned and/or already developed and operating within the LifeWatch Slovenia consortium.

In addition, LifeWatch Slovenia is now providing new ecological research measurements and observations leading to scientific publications, as well as new datasets for the Bird Ringing database (BRDbase), for the FOR-PLAT forest database and for the Buoy VIDA marine database

With the new equipment we will develop two virtual labs in the near future: ProteusWatch vLabKarst Groundwater Habitats vLab to assess and monitor the inaccessible and unique karst groundwater biodiversity hotspots (e.g. Proteus anguinus and various cave invertebrates).

The RI-SI-LifeWatch project has also enriched the international research infrastructure LifeWatch ERIC with new research opportunities and incentives. The project has helped to:

  1. conduct modern biodiversity research for marine, freshwater, and terrestrial ecosystems
  2. establish open access to Big Data related to various databases and observatories
  3. conduct data visualisation from virtual labs with modelling tools and enhance the LifeWatch RI by developing new analytical capacity for open research data
  4. support targeted user training and collaboration to monitor and predict the impacts of global change on biodiversity

A national hub of distributed biodiversity and ecosystem research data centres will be implemented at individual national partners. The RI-SI-LifeWatch project was successfully completed on 31 August 2021.

LifeWatch Slovenia Project

ERDF LifeWatch Slovenia

The Slovenian Government Office for Development and European Cohesion Policy issued a grant decision on 23 December 2019 (from the ERDF) that will help LifeWatch Slovenia to enhance its international competitiveness. The LifeWatch-SI project grant of €2.6 million will enable the purchase of equipment to support the implementation of international research projects in monitoring and predicting the impacts of global changes on biodiversity. 

The research infrastructure, established in 2015, will be better able to collect, manage and save biodiversity data by establishing a tissue sample bank, an analytical centre, a molecular laboratory with the necessary software for analysing genetic diversity, and instruments in the field of genomics and biotechnology. The RI-SI-LifeWatch project fulfils a national priority under the Research and Innovation Strategy of Slovenia 2011-2020.

Professor Tanja Pipan, national coordinator of LifeWatch Slovenia in Postojna, was delighted with the grant and declared, “This European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) commitment will allow us to set up a national network of Smart Specialisation Strategy of Slovenia partners under Horizon 2020, and to establish a national data center to meet the needs of Slovenian researchers in ecosystems and biodiversity”. 

5th LifeWatch ERIC General Assembly

5th General Assembly

The Dirk Bouts Building in the Flemish Administrative Centre (VAC) in Leuven, Belgium, was the scene for the 5th LifeWatch ERIC General Assembly, from 11–12 December 2019, chaired by Gert Verreet. Composed of the representatives from all full Member States and observers, the purpose of General Assembly Meetings, the highest governing body of LifeWatch ERIC, is to set the overall direction and to supervise the development and operation of LifeWatch ERIC. 

At the heart of this 5th General Assembly lies the prototype of the LifeWatch ERIC Platform, an integrated initiative of LifeWatch ERIC Common Facilities presented by the CTO, Dr Juan Miguel González-Aranda. Thanks to its application layers and user-friendly interfaces, the prototype will enable the integration of all the resources, including web services developed by National Nodes over the years, as well as those resulting from Common Facilities and Joint Initiatives, like the recent investigation undertaken by the infrastructure members on the current and future challenges of NIS in Europe, into Virtual Research Environments (VREs). The prototype was adopted by the General Assembly, officially marking the beginning of the deployment and operational phase, with its implementation expected to continue until the end of next year.

With many other important issues on the agenda, this rich two-day meeting moved from a review of LifeWatch ERIC activities in 2019 to forward planning for 2020 and delivering general frameworks for implementation. Among these, the Assembly approved the general framework for Service Level Agreements (SLAs) to be used as the basis for a roll-out to national nodes in the course of the year, and an engagement policy to reinforce our dialogue with – and capacity to reach out to – external stakeholders. By finalising the rules and procedures for subsidiary bodies, and having established the selection committee to complete the recruitment of one of the most strategic positions, the Chief Financial Officer, LifeWatch ERIC will be in good shape to hit the ground running in 2020.

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.

50th Anniversary of NIB-Marine Biology Station Piran

When the Slovenian Consortium, LifeWatch-SI, was established in 2015, the National Institute of Biology (NIB) was a founding partner, but marine research and monitoring of seawater quality operations at the NIB’s Marine Biology Station Piran began a long time before that. Indeed, in 2019, the interdisciplinary marine station is celebrating 50 years of physical, chemical and biological oceanography. The Marine Biological Station (MBS) was founded in 1969 by a small group of enthusiastic researchers and the very first premises were in small house located in coastal city Portorož. Today it is one of the largest departments within the National Institute of Biology, a truly trans-disciplinary, vibrant and modern marine station. From the very beginning, research work was focused on ecological research and the consequences of anthropogenic impact in the coastal sea. Now that LifeWatch ERIC plays a key role in data management, historical records can be updated and analysed to deliver the ultimate in biodiversity and ecosystem research. Modern approaches to biology in the widest sense, spanning disciplines that include microbial and phytoplankton ecology, and geochemistry, provide scientific knowledge and solutions on current issues for the benefit of society and stakeholders. The unique environment of the Northern Adriatic Sea and its rapid changes demand constant monitoring and efficient observation systems, in which a crucial part is covered by the “Vida” buoy with sensors that provide a vast amount of useful data. Infrastructure facilities also include also a diving base and the “Sagita” research vessel. As a marine station, Piran is always open to the general public and has been awarded many times for its extensive dissemination of knowledge. Global changes and enormous pressure on marine environments demand greater international collaboration for scientific work to be truly efficient. MBS is closely connected with many European marine institutions and networks, and being part of the LifeWatch ERIC community ideally complements its long-term research and conservation commitment to marine biodiversity.

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: www.lifewatch.eu/scientific-community-meeting