Task groups to help make data more ‘fit for use’ in key research areas

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GBIF has assembled a pair of panels of international experts to explore how best to improve the use and application of GBIF-mediated data in agrobiodiversity and distribution modelling.

Each task group will assess coverage and completeness of data—often referred to as ‘fitness for use’— and lend its expertise to recommend approaches that could improve research and applications in these thematic areas. Their work is part of a broader strategy to engage expert communities of interest to understand how biodiversity data are applied in particular use cases.

“The discovery and use of relevant data is critical for research fields such as distribution modelling, an approach increasingly used for informed decision-making” says Dmitry Schigel, programme officer for content analysis and use.

“The two task groups will help improve the fit of available data for agrobiodiversity and distribution modelling research communities,” he explains.

The task groups will consult with other experts, gather opinions and share insights on data publishing and use. The groups also expect to document best practices for agrobiodiversity or distribution modelling uses and provide recommendations to enhance GBIF.org to support user needs.

Task group on data fitness for use in agrobiodiversity

Chair: Elizabeth Arnaud, who works with Bioversity International, has a background in data management and has coordinated the Musa Germplasm Information System (MGIS), the CGIAR System-wide Information System on Genetic Resources (SINGER) and the development of the Bioversity geospatial database for collected crop samples.

Nora Castañeda from the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) works on assessing conservation needs of forest and crop genetic resources globally.

Dag Endresen from the Natural History Museum, University of Oslo and Node Manager of GBIF Norway, was previously Knowledge Systems Engineer at the GBIF Secretariat. He has experience in predictive modelling of environmental factors influencing adaptive crop traits, spatial data analysis, and gene bank data modelling including a proposed mapping between the Multi-Crop Passport Descriptors (MCPD) and the Darwin Core standard.

Jean Cossi Ganglo, Professor of Forestry at the University of Abomey-Calavi, Benin, and Node Manager, GBIF Benin, leads a research team on forest dynamics, plant sociology and biodiversity informatics.

Ebrahim Jahanshiri works as CropBASE coordinator at Crops for the Future and is involved in developing online knowledge systems for underutilized crops and customized cloud-based data management and computational engines for scientific research especially in the area of crop performance simulation, crop-climate matching and genetic resources. 

Yves Vigouroux, population geneticist at the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD) works on several crops of Africa and America and leads a team of researchers working on human activities and dynamics of plant genetic diversity (Dynadiv).

Task group on data fitness for use on distribution modelling

Chair: Jorge Soberón Mainero, Professor and senior scientist at the University of Kansas (United States)

Robert Anderson
Professor of Biology, City University of New York (United States)

Miguel Bastos Araújo
Research professor of the Spanish Research Council (CSIC) at the National Museum of Natural Sciences,  Visiting Professor, University of Copenhagen and University of Évora

Antoine Guisan
Associate professor in ecology, University of Lausanne (Switzerland)

Jorge Miguel Lobo
Department of Biodiversity and Evolutionary Biology, National Museum of Natural Sciences, Madrid (Spain).

Enrique Martínez Meyer
Researcher at the Institute of Biology, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.

Townsend Peterson
Professor at University of Kansas' Biodiversity Institute

Photo: Peruvian potatoes. By Scott Bauer, 626USDA Agricultural Research Service. Public domain image.

Young Researchers Award winner to help advance development of biodiversity informatics in South Africa

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Fatima Parker-Allie, a PhD student from South Africa, is one of the two recipients of the GBIF Young Researchers’ Award for 2015.

Her work will seek to advance the field of biodiversity informatics in South Africa in three distinct and complementary areas:

  • The development of a national BSc (honours) curriculum for biodiversity informatics
  • Data quality improvements that make biodiversity data more fit for use in research applications
  • Distribution models of commercially important fish species in southern African waters under different climate scenarios

Parker is the node manager at SABIF, GBIF’s national node in South Africa, which is hosted at the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI). She is pursuing her PhD studies at the University of Western Cape (UWC), which in 2012 signed an agreement with SANBI to collaborate on the development of a ‘centre of excellence’ for biodiversity information management. Producing students who earn PhDs is seen as key in this effort to build capacity.

Describing her research, Parker said, “My project was conceptualized to work across the data value chain, so that better decision making can be supported through the use of data. It will involve the full ‘life cycle’ of data, from assessing the type and quality of biodiversity data resources, to improving their quality, to analysing and interpreting them.

“My project also supports the science-policy interface by addressing the impacts of climate change on range shifts of fish populations and the direct implications for fisheries, food security and biodiversity. It looks at the use of Marine Protected Areas as a climate change adaptation and mitigation measure for fish populations”, Parker added.

For the first strand of her work, Parker will tackle the lack of a coordinated research agenda in biodiversity informatics in South Africa. To achieve this, she will explore a conceptual framework and develop an extended Honours curriculum in biodiversity informatics. Parker indicates that this project also aligns with the Presidential Outcome #5 (of 12), a governmental delivery agreement and the Human Capital Development Strategy, focussed on developing skills and leadership positions in the scarce skills area of biodiversity informatics.

The other two streams of Parker’s work will focus on the quality and use of GBIF-mediated records of marine fish. Parker, in her proposal for the Young Researcher Award, explains that approximately 2.8 million fish data records are published for southern Africa. She plans to examine these data for accuracy and clarity, prior to developing workflows and guidelines to improve the publication of marine data.

Following the data quality analysis, Parker will use ecological niche modelling techniques to model current and future distributions of fish species under various climate scenarios. The analysis will also include assessing the impacts of climate change on fish species in marine protected areas and on selected commercial fish species that are an important source of food in South Africa.

Parker will complete her research with the guidance of Mark Gibbons a marine biogeography and taxonomic expert, and Townsend Peterson, who helped develop a biodiversity informatics curriculum for the University of Kansas and has worked extensively on training programmes in Africa.

Young Researchers Award winner from Colombia to explore historic patterns of Mexican fauna

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Gonzalo Enrique Pinilla Buitrago, a Colombian-Venezuelan Master’s degree student at the Instituto de Ecología in Xalapa, Mexico, is one of two recipients of the GBIF Young Researchers Award for 2015.

In the project outlined for the award submission, Pinilla Buitrago proposes to examine historical distribution patterns of fauna through niche modeling techniques, using data accessed through GBIF and other sources. He will draw upon half a million records related to 493 mammals and more than 7,000 records for 112 beetle species. The research will also use data from the Mammal Networked Information System (MaNIS), and CONABIO (Mexico’s National Information System on Biodiversity, and home of the GBIF national node) along with additional records from published literature. 

One result expected from Pinilla Buitrago’s study is the identification of areas of endemism in the Mexican Transition Zone, which spans the overlapping Nearctic and Neotropical biogeographic units in the country, and is broadly recognized for its high species diversity and endemism.

“Most research on dividing biogeographic regions into segments is limited to a spatial perspective. But biogeographic units are dynamic and change with time. It will be interesting to explore and find out about previously unknown patterns that suggest this dynamism,” says Pinilla Buitrago.

In a letter of support to the GBIF Science Committee, Lauren Raz, Pinilla Buitrago’s supervisor for his earlier work at the National University of Colombia, writes, “Despite the fact that Colombia is a megadiverse country, there are relatively few biologists trained to do sophisticated spatio-temporal analyses of biological data. Given the urgency of the problem of climate change, his skills are needed more than ever.”

Pinilla Buitrago was nominated for the award by the Head of Delegation for Colombia on the GBIF Governing Board.

Dr Leonard Hirsch: a great loss to GBIF

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It is with great sadness that the GBIF community has learned of the death of Dr Leonard Hirsch, one of its founders and most influential supporters.

Dr Hirsch, of the Smithsonian Institution, was on the steering group that established GBIF in 2001 following the recommendation of OECD science ministers in 1999.

In subsequent years, he represented the United States at several meetings of the GBIF Governing Board and worked tirelessly to promote understanding of GBIF’s work both nationally and in the global arena.

Donald Hobern, GBIF Executive Secretary, said: “The whole GBIF community owes Len Hirsch a great debt for the stalwart support he gave over the years, and the active role he played in bringing GBIF into existence and helping to steer it as its governing principles were established.

“He will be sorely missed.”

Peter Schalk, chair of the GBIF Governing Board, added: “Len Hirsch was a remarkable character who was part of the GBIF family right from the beginning. A wonderful and very engaged person who never feared to speak up and share his thoughts, and who has done much for stimulating the interaction between delegates.

“He was a good and appreciated friend to GBIF. We will miss him.”