AERAP virtual conference “A New Era for Africa-EU Science and Innovation Partnerships”

The Africa European Radio Astronomy Platform (AERAP) held a virtual conference on 9-10 September 2020, entitled “A New Era for Africa-EU Science and Innovation Partnerships”. Scientists, innovators, network policymakers and other stakeholders came together to advance the cause of Africa Horizon Europe Development and Cooperation. Since its foundation in 2012, the AERAP platform has widened its scope beyond radio astronomy sciences to serve as an engagement platform for broader Africa-EU science collaboration, one of its main results being ontgoing EU-AFRICA cooperation and the establishment of the SKA (Square Kilometre Array) Research Infrastructure

LifeWatch ERIC was represented by its Chief Technology Officer, Juan Miguel González-Aranda, who made two presentations to help reinforce the infrastructure’s collaboration with African communities of practice on Biodiversity & Ecosystem Research. The presentations emphasised not only the nature and potential of LifeWatch ERIC, but also the active roles of the co-chairs of the EU-AFRICA AERAP Working Group on Green Deal, Transition & Energy Access: González-Aranda on behalf of the European Union side, by representing the ENVRI cluster on Research Infrastructures as also Member of the ERIC FORUM Executive Board; and Georgina Ryan, Department of  Science and Innovation, Pretoria, representing the Government of the Republic of South Africa on behalf of the African Union.

SItE Roundtable event

SItE Roundtable

When the annual Congress of the Italian Society of Ecology (Società Italiana di Ecologia – SItE), planned for 14-18 September in Lecce had to be postponed until next year because of Covid-19, the organising committee, in conjunction with LifeWatch Italy and the Ecology Laboratory at the University of Salento, decided to offer its members a day of online Roundtables entitled “SItE – Towards Lecce 2021” to celebrate Ecology Day on 14 September. Around 300 registrations were made to follow the 20 presentations offered across a comprehensive range of topics:

• Ecosystem health and chemical mixture risk assessment and management

• Ecosystems and their services for human well-being 

• Healthy Ecosystems, Healthy People

• Landscape ecology: sustainable landscape management, and

• Arctic and Alpine ecosystems in the face of climate change.

Dr Christos Arvanitidis was called up from LifeWatch ERIC to contribute to the Healthy Ecosystems, Healthy People session, which was organised by the European Ecological Federation and chaired by its President, Cristina Maguas. Dr Arvanitidis’ talk was on the topic of ‘Biodiversity and Emerging Infectious Diseases: the role of the RIs in combating threats to public health’, starting with the connection between environmental factors during the Plague of Athens (430 BC) and moving forward on to how modern European Research Infrastructures (RIs) contribute to analysing the connections between human and ecosystem health. An RI like LifeWatch ERIC offers a one-stop disruptive technology-based architecture combined with docker technology, that guarantees authentication, transparency and reproducibility, which form the cornerstones of the modern process of scientific knowledge production. In addition, Dr Arvanitidis argued, it enables “the linking of facts and fact-based theory across disciplines to create a common groundwork of explanation”. Click here to download the presentation. The 2021 Italian Society of Ecology congress will take place in Lecce, from 13 to 17 September.

Master in e-Biodiversity and Ecosystem Sciences

A new Master in e-Biodiversity and Ecosystem Sciences (EBES) degree will be offered next year by the University of Salento and LifeWatch ERIC, to prepare the next generation of professionals to apply data tools and concepts to ecology, and develop innovative, interdisciplinary solutions to environmental issues. 

LifeWatch ERIC, together with the University of Salento (and soon also the Ionian University in Corfu), is offering students who enrol in this master’s degree the opportunity to combine these disciplines in a single professional development programme in this exciting new field. e-Biodiversity and Ecosystem Sciences (EBES) is the newest International M.Sc. available at UniSalento, as from next academic year 2020-2021, as a double degree and exclusively taught in English.

A new generation of scientists and experts is needed in e-biodiversity and ecosystem sciences, professionals who are trained to apply data science tools and concepts to ecology, and develop innovative solutions to these key issues, and others, by blending the sciences and working in interdisciplinary teams.

Global challenges, like the climate crisis and the current COVID-19 pandemic, call for a deeper understanding of ecological phenomena at various levels of scale, to identify patterns and underlying mechanisms of biodiversity organisation and ecosystem functioning, and design scenarios of future change. 

Science is changing: informatics and data are becoming ever more prominent and are opening up new opportunities to advance our knowledge and provide science-based solutions to society’s needs. We have big data but we lack the ability to take full advantage of them. 

Thanks to the strategic partnership with LifeWatch ERIC, students of the Master in e-Biodiversity and Ecosystem Sciences will have the unique opportunity to spend from 6- to 12-month mobility periods abroad during their second year, taking advantage of dedicated LifeWatch ERIC fellowships or those of the ERASMUS+ programme. EBES students will also be welcomed within the LifeWatch ERIC Partner Institution Network, offering access to infrastructure facilities and Virtual Research Environments to work on their master’s thesis.

Check the brochure (updated 2021–2022 version) and the University of Salento webpage for more info.

Towards the ENVRI Community Winter School

Data FAIRness Webinar Programme, July–September 2020

For two years in a row already, the ENVRI Community International Summer School on Data FAIRness has been assembling in Lecce, in the middle of the summer season, those researchers, experts and technical staff from different environmental and research infrastructures who want to deepen their knowledge on this topic. Unfortunately, the ongoing COVID-19 restrictions have ordained the postponement of the current edition until the beginning of next year, when the ‘ENVRI Community Winter School on Data FAIRness‘ will take place, still in Lecce. The delay has created the opportunity to enrich our training offerings on the subject, with a series of online webinars dedicated to data management, leading the way ‘Towards the ENVRI community Winter School’.

A Data FAIRness Webinar Programme featuring three webinars have been jointly organised by ENVRI-FAIR and LifeWatch ERIC from July to September 2020, with a focus on helping end users, particularly ENVRI-FAIR project partners and data centre staff, make the best use of their data. Registration for the webinars is free and anyone working in environmental and Earth science research is welcome to take part.

Under the heading of ‘Towards the ENVRI Community Winter School’, the online training series debuts on Monday 13 July 2020. The first broadcast is presented by Zhiming Zhao, from the University of Amsterdam, and will go to air from 9:30 to 12:00 CEST, providing ‘An introduction to Cloud Computing’

The second webinar on ‘Workflows Orchestration and Execution’ will follow on Tuesday 14 July, from 10:00-12:00, presented by Nicola Fiore and Lucia Vaira, both from LifeWatch ERIC. 

The third webcast is scheduled for 22 September and will feature Claudio D’Onofrio and Karolina Pantazatou, both from ICOS ERIC, with ‘An Introduction to Jupyter’.

Dates for the ENVRI Community Winter School on Data FAIRness, still to be hosted by the University of Salento in Lecce, will be available soon.

LifeWatch Species Information Backbone

LifeWatch Species Information Backbone

The LifeWatch Species Information Backbone (LW-SIBb) facilitates the standardisation of species data and the (virtual) integration of many distributed biodiversity data repositories and operating facilities. Built on expert-validated and literature-based information, the LW-SIBb is structured in different open data systems for taxonomy, biogeography, genetics and species traits. It is the driving force behind the species information services of the Belgian e-Lab. Several taxonomic data systems, species registers, nomenclatures and taxonomy-related projects contribute to the LifeWatch Species Information Backbone. They all help to make the Species Information Backbone more complete, either by an active collaboration to fill gaps, opening their data system for data exchange or by making their data accessible through web services. Recently, two major milestones were reached within the Backbone. 

Firstly, the data rescue and secured continuation of the Global Compositae Database into the Aphia platform has become a fact. Although Compositae (or Asteraceae) are not even remotely linked to the marine environment, the Aphia database – the platform behind the World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS) – is suitable for managing non-marine taxa as well. Rather than letting this enormous resource of Compositae information run the risk of disappearing, the WoRMS Data Management Team undertook to transfer it to the Aphia platform, starting work in 2017. That transfer has now been completed.

Secondly, the Interim Register of Marine and Nonmarine Genera (IRMNG) is a compilation of genus names that covers both living and extinct biota in a single system to support taxonomic and other queries dealing with e.g. homonyms, authorities, parent-child relationships, spelling variations and distinctions between marine and non-marine or fossil and recent taxa. IRMNG provides  the most complete and consistent coverage of all kingdoms of life presently available in such a form and serves to illustrate the scope of a project for a more detailed survey of “all the genera of the world” as well as providing a comparison with existing lists and preliminary content that can be of value for the compilation of new lists. 

Like the Compositae Database, IRMNG, which was originally started and managed by the CSIRO in Australia, has also experienced a major data rescue and become an integrated part of the LifeWatch Species Information Backbone, accessible through its very own portal, and through the LifeWatch e-services.

Data Protection Legislation Webinar

What are the main challenges awaiting Data Protection Legislation for health research? How is COVID-19 pandemic affecting this?

These are the themes at the heart of the International webinar hosted, today 5 May 2020, by Intelligence in Science (ISC), on health research in the era of General Data Protection Regulation, discussing how regulations might affect the coordination of global responses and how data transfers and processing can be achieved with safety and security.

Juan Miguel González-Aranda, Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and Executive Board member of ERIC FORUM, was invited to join the panel on GDPR/Blockchain, Federated Machine Learning and AI. This is in fact a central niche for the distributed e-Infrastructure which, under the lead of its CTO and thanks to the effort of all ICT staff, developed the LifeBlock platform, establishing LifeWatch ERIC as the first Environmental ESFRI using Blockchain technologies for engaging, tracking and securing biodiversity and ecosystem research resources & services provision.

The webinar featured contributions from National Institutes of Health, government departments and eminent universities, while topics ranged from GDPR and Data Transfers, their implication for Horizon Europe funding opportunities, and downstream data sharing for COVID-19 research. The webinar concluded with a World View, working towards recommendations for global alignment on data protection regulation for improved health outcomes in advance of the United Nations General Assembly in September 2020.

S4BioDiv 2020

3rd International Workshop on Semantics for Biodiversity

The S4BioDiv 3rd International Workshop on Semantics for Biodiversity, to be held in Bolzano, Italy, on 16 September, has issued a call for papers. Authors are invited to submit for inclusion topics related the application and development of semantic technologies to support research in the biodiversity and related domains. In the light of the coronavirus crisis, the conference may need to be held virtually. The final format of the conference will be determined in June.

Biodiversity deals with heterogeneous data and concepts generated from a large number of disciplines in order to build a coherent picture of the extent of life on earth. The presence of such a myriad of data resources makes integrative biodiversity research increasingly important, as well as challenging given the variety of ways in which data and information are produced and made available. The Semantic Web approach enhances data discoverability, sharing, interoperability and integration through a formalised conceptual environment providing common formats, standards, and terminological resources.

The S4BioDiv 2020 Workshop, which is supported by LifeWatch ERIC, aims to bring together computer scientists and biologists, working on Semantic Web approaches for biodiversity, ecology and related areas such as plant sciences, agronomy, agroecology or citizen science related to biodiversity. The goal is to exchange experiences, build a state of the art of realizations and challenges, and reuse and adapt solutions that have been proposed in other domains. The workshop focuses will be on presenting challenging issues and solutions for the design of high-quality biodiversity information systems leveraging Semantic Web techniques.

Click here for conference details and important dates.

Ten remarkable new marine species from 2019

As in previous years, the World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS) has again released the annual list of the top-ten marine species described by researchers during the year 2019 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 500 experts globally also contribute their valuable time to keeping the World Register of Marine Species up to date.

Today is a chance for us at WoRMS to thank all our editors for this important task. And we celebrate the work of taxonomists now with the WoRMS list of the top-ten marine species described in 2019 as nominated and voted for by taxonomists and journal editors!

This top ten list is just a small highlight of almost 2,000 fascinating new marine species discovered every year. Each of these marine animals has a story. This year the chosen species are in some cases particularly small, large, hidden or rather sparkly! We feature the unusual light-producing Christmas-Light Brittle Star and the Star-of-the-Sea Seed Shrimp; the tiny Brenner’s Bobtail Squid; cryptic Boring Amphipods and Green Rat Clingfish; and even a giant Mediterranean Branching Placozoan (well, giant for a placozoan…).

A list of the ‘Top Ten Species’ described from ALL habitats and taxa has been announced annually since 2008 by the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF). The oceans cover over 70% of the surface of our planet, and yet they still include the least explored regions. Although the ESF list often contains one or two marine species, we decided to pay homage to the ‘largest habitat on earth’ by producing our own list of the top marine species.

Go to the LifeWatch Belgium press release for details of these ten remarkable new marine species from 2019.

BEeS Conference postponed


In light of the growing concerns about COVID-19, in consideration of the limitations that various nation states have enforced to contain the pandemic, and in the light of guidance issued by national public health authorities and global health organisations, LifeWatch ERIC has decided to postpone the Biodiversity and Ecosystem e-Science (BEes) Conference, previously announced for 27-29 May 2020, in Ljubljana.

Given the current circumstances, we have concluded that it is no longer possible to plan and manage our conference to the usual standards in such a way as would sufficiently ensure the safety of participants.

We thank all our prospective participants for their trust and interest, but we issue this urgent warning NOT to make any travel or accommodation arrangements for this event.

Now is the time for us to put all our strengths together to fight this pandemic. New dates and details will be communicated as soon as possible.

Workshop: Online Bioinformatic Platforms to support Metabarcoding and Metagenomics research and Applications

The pan-European Workshop, held in Porto from 26 – 28 February, in the Research Centre in Biodiversity and Genetic Resources (CIBIO-InBIO) at the Vairão campus of the University of Porto, Portugal, boasted a very specific title: ‘Online Bioinformatic Platforms to Support Metabarcoding and Metagenomics Research and Applications’.

The workshop witnessed more than 30 participants from nine European countries (Belgium, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland) with different expertise and backgrounds, ranging from metagenomics and metabarcoding, to ecology and ICT.

1) Checking existing distributed Bioinformatics e-Resources within the LifeWatch ERIC communities of practice,

2) Reaching a common understanding of users’ requirements and needs in Virtual Research Environments, and

3) Proposing an efficient and realistic and engaging mechanism from an ICT perspective, capable of federating those e-Resources within the LifeWatch ERIC VREs.

Examples of evidence-based research were provided by the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC), MIRRI (Microbial Research Resource Infrastructure), ELIXIR (which unites Europe’s leading life science organisations in managing and safeguarding the ever-growing volumes of data generated), other Research Infrastructures and Bioinformatics initiatives.

The outcome of the three days was a plan with well-identified next steps towards the co-construction of the bioinformatic platform.