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.

To Infinity… And Beyond! LifeWatch ERIC in Initiative to Launch Nanosatellite

Nanosatellite

LifeWatch ERIC is proud to be a key partner in an initiative to launch the first nanosatellite for terrestrial observation in Andalusia, alongside longstanding collaborator AGAPA from the Junta de Andalucía. The initiative in question is the SmartFood project, which has planned the nanosatellite launch for 2023, integrating a high-resolution camera, as well as the corresponding power supply equipment and the communications system necessary for transmitting data to the ground control station.

The SmartFood project has a budget of almost €1 million, 80% financed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), through the Pluriregional Operational Programme for Spain 2014-2020. Its mission is to deploy a land network of sensors to monitor variables related to climate, soil, water and plants; capture aerial images through drones and balloons, as well as capture images from space. The collection of these data from a range of different spatial-temporal scales will allow for a comprehensive approach to monitoring agricultural and livestock systems.

“Another aim of the SmartFood project is to establish standardised protocols for the monitoring, quantification and evaluation of biodiversity through the integration of open data. To this end, the ultimate goal is to offer tools and collaborative work environments for the research community, also making the information and applications developed available to the different end users involved in the primary sector” said LifeWatch ERIC CTO, Juan Miguel Gonzalez-Aranda, as PI of the project. This will be made possible through LifeWatch ERIC; the entire ecosystem of data and applications collected will be shared with the LifeWatch ERIC community, thus facilitating consolidation and collaborative analysis in relation to:

  1. monitoring and controlling the impacts that agriculture and fishing have on biodiversity, as well as;
  2. measuring the effects of climate change on the sustainability and profitability of agriculture and fishing;

by means of the implementation of the proper VRE.

A Window on Science

A Window on Science

LifeWatch ERIC, the European e-Science Infrastructure for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Research, is launching a new podcast series. Entitled “LifeWatch ERIC: A Window on Science”, the fortnightly 10-minute broadcast is geared towards the widest possible audience, from researchers to informaticians, and from politicians to ordinary people concerned about climate change and the environment. 

Starting on 16 March 2022, the early episodes will focus on the Internal Joint Initiative, LifeWatch ERIC’s core activity in its first five years: the development of a new, innovative Virtual Research Environment focused on Non-indigenous and Invasive Species. And if that sounds complicated to you, perhaps you would do well to tune into the first few podcasts, designed to demystify some of that science-speak.

As Christos Arvanitidis, CEO of LifeWatch ERIC commented, “The podcasts are offered as an easy-to-digest communication to raise awareness of our work beyond the scientistic communities already involved. We’re hoping they will have a great impact and attract more users to our next-gen Big Data management facilities”.

The Window on Science podcasts are available on our website and on all major podcast platforms:

Series One. Introducing the Internal Joint Initiative:

16 March Trailer

30 March LifeWatch ERIC Chief Executive Officer, Christos Arvanitidis

12 April    Alberto Basset, Director of the LifeWatch ERIC Service Centre, Lecce

27 April    LifeWatch ERIC Chief Technology Officer, Juan Miguel González-Aranda

Stay tuned, more details on Seasons Two and Three coming up soon!

Statement from Africa Zanella, Gender & Sustainability Expert, for International Women’s Day on behalf of LifeWatch ERIC

International Womens Day 2022

“I have been profoundly moved learning about the fantastic scientists put in the spotlight for International Women’s Day 2022. While their stories read in isolation are inspiring, it is particularly poignant to read them together, and realise that while this diverse group of women speak different mother tongues, hail from different time periods and harbour different interests, they all shared the same vision to improve the world through science, and broke the barriers put in front of them to arrive at that goal. From Marie-Anne Libert, who was not entitled to receive formal scientific training, yet went on to describe more than 200 novel taxa, to Angela Piskernik, who became the first Slovenian female doctor of biological sciences, to Emilia Chiancone, the first woman President of the Italian National Academy of Sciences, to Rita Covas, Montserrat Vilà, Tatyana Bileva, Despoina Vokou and Martina Vijver, the brilliant scientists who are powering research in Europe today.

Individually, their work has had a huge impact on their respective research fields, but together, they have profoundly influenced society as a whole, from our cultural beliefs to the economic landscape, by paving the way for future women scientists to overcome established patterns, stereotyping and unconscious bias and help to maintain a female presence in these traditionally male-dominated fields. LifeWatch ERIC has sought on the special occasion of International Women’s Day 2022 to encourage more women to pursue a career in STEM – to seek roles as researchers, investigators, thought leaders, to assist with the many issues facing our planet and our society at this point of time and ensure sustainability for the future.

By recently creating the role of Gender Equity Officer, LifeWatch ERIC is going further to actively integrate a gender dimension in Research and Innovation, and a more gender-balanced approach to its work, in fostering equality in scientific careers, and diversity and inclusion in line with European Commission guidelines as well as the UN SDGs and campaigns (Gender Equality Today for a Sustainable Tomorrow). As women, we too have an important role to play in science, progress and well-being, as demonstrated by the women described above. It is my job and pleasure to work with the LifeWatch ERIC team to design and implement a Gender Equality Plan, to create an equitable  and sustainable culture  for all talent at work, and to further the Infrastructure’s quest to develop innovative research tools and systems for biodiversity and ecosystem scientists everywhere. 

From all at Lifewatch ERIC, we wish you a very Happy International Women’s Day 2022.”

International Women’s Day 2022: Martina Vijver

Martina Vijver

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. 

Martina Vijver is a Professor of Ecotoxicology at Leiden University, where she leads the research line “Chemical stressors and impacts on biodiversity”. She is also Chair of the University’s Permanent Committee for Academic Practice (WeCo) as well as the cofounder and director of the Researchers in Science for Equality network (RISE) and founder of the Living Lab.

Previously, Vijver was a modeller and scientific researcher at the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), gaining her PhD in Ecotoxicology (bioaccumulation) at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam before joining the Institute of Environmental Sciences at the University of Leiden in 2005. Now she investigates different stressors on biodiversity like chemicals, nanomaterials, electromagnetic fields or light, and is author of 110< peer-reviewed scientific articles. She is particularly passionate about fieldwork, believing in the value of carrying out ecotoxicology research under natural conditions, leading her to found the Living Lab at the University of Leiden in 2016, where she is the principal investigator. The Living Lab is an outdoor facility where professors and students of the University’s Institute of Enviromental Sciences can research the effects of mankind on the environment in the most realistic way possible.

She has been involved  in several different EU–FP7 and Horizon 2020 projects, like PATROLS, and is actively engaged in scientific outreach activities such as speaking in public lectures and giving tours to schoolchildren. In addition, she co-founded and directs RISE, whose mission is to support female scientists by stimulating their personal and professional development, advancing their careers and enhancing their visibility. The network also aims to raise awareness of the importance of gender equality amongst scientific staff “by providing solicited and unsolicited advice to the Faculty Board and Selection and Appointment Committees”. In 2017, she received a World Cultural Council Special Recognition Award for research with an impact on society.

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.

International Women’s Day 2022: Montserrat Vilà

Montserrat Vilà

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. 

Montserrat Vilà Planella, born in Figueres (Girona), is a research professor at the Doñana Biological Station (EBD-CSIC). She carried out a PhD in Biology from the Autonomous University of Barcelona, where she was a lecturer in Ecology and scientific secretary of CREAF, followed by a post-doctorate at the University of California at Berkeley. Her research work mainly focuses on the ecology of biological invasions and their application to ecosystem conservation, for which she was given the most prestigious award in Spain in the field of scientific research, and with which she and her team have developed Impact Risk Assessments for major invaders in Europe.

Vilà is a member of the IUCN Invasive Species Specialist Group, chair of NEOBIOTA, and member of the Scientific Forum on the European Regulation of Invasive Alien Species. With more than 200 publications in SCI scientific journals and more than 40 book chapters, in the last 8 years she has been highlighted by Thomson-Reuters as among the top 1% of the world’s most cited researchers in the field of Ecology and Environment. She is associate editor of the journals Biological Invasions, NeoBiota, Ecology Letters and Bioscience, serving on several project evaluation panels. She was previously deputy director at EBD-CSIC, and has coordinated proposal evaluations in the area of Plant Biology, Animal Biology and Ecology at the AEI. She is also a lead author on the Impacts chapter of the IPBES Invasive Alien Species Assessment.

More recently, during the pandemic, she has reflected on the evolution of COVID-19 and found out that the epidemiology of human pathogens and the biology of invasions by plants and animals share many mechanisms, phenomena and challenges, but also potential solutions. She has brought her ideas to a synthesis study published in BioScience, arguing for an interdisciplinary perspective to bring together research on infectious diseases and non-native species invasion, in order to better understand current and future threats in biosecurity, and to improve prevention and response measures.

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.

International Women’s Day 2022: Despoina Vokou 

Despoina Vokou

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. 

Despoina Vokou is a Professor of Ecology in the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece, where she previously held the roles of Head of the School of Biology and Deputy Dean of the School of Science. She obtained her bachelor’s degree from School of Pharmacy, National and Kapodistrian of the University of Athens, followed by a PhD from the School of Biology at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. Her research interests include aerobiology, mycology and plant ecology, Mediterranean ecosystems, biodiversity conservation and management of protected areas. She has published over 110 scientific publications with an h-index of 36. 

Vokou’s expertise in her field has received much recognition, having also been heavily involved in the direction of WWF Greece over the last 30 years; she was invited to represent Greece at the 10th Μeeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP 10) in Japan, and was president of the Natura 2000 national Committee, as well as being called up as an expert on international environmental issues/WPIEI-Biodiversity for the 2014 Greek Presidency of the EU Council.

The National Bank of Greece invited her to review its report on ‘The environmental, economic and social impacts of climate change in Greece’, and the 5th Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) invited her to review chapters of its famous report  ‘Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability’. In addition to being a Member of the Council of European Ecological Federation (EEF) for nearly a decade, Vokou is also a founding member of the Hellenic Ecological Society (HELECOS), which she presided over for several years.