Written by Adi Habul, Environmental Fund of Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina
For the last three decades, we have been witnessing a very rapid development of data collection, management and analysis processes in the field of biodiversity, as well as their integration into the uniform information systems that can respond to the needs of a variety of beneficiaries. There are numerous reasons that underline and push forward these processes, such as: rising global awareness on environmental issues, integration of “green policies” in national and global trends, development and improvement of informational technologies or IT, global communications and data sharing, the need for good and reliable data that require adequate response, and many others.
The Naturalis Biodiversity Center from Leiden, together with Netherlands Biodiversity Information Facility, hosted an international conference named Biodiversity_Next, which was financed by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science of the Netherlands. It took place in Leiden from October 22 to 25.
Joining hands on data-intensive research
For the first time, the conference brought major international organizations, researchers and decision makers together, with the main goal of problem identification (socio-technical bottlenecks) and the possibilities to jointly identify opportunities around data-intensive biodiversity and geodiversity research. More information about the event’s organization, its facilitators and Leiden itself is available at the following link https://biodiversitynext.org.
I had the opportunity to join the conference as one of the representative of BIMR Regional Platform under the subproject Regional Network for Biodiversity Information Management and Reporting (BIMR 2) within the GIZ project Open Regional Fund for South-East Europe – Implementation of Biodiversity Agreements (ORF BDU) financed by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).
Audience got active
With over 700 participants from 76 countries (350 oral and poster presentations), I had the privilege to listen to the leading experts in biodiversity data management as well as the possibility to actively participate, which made the conference very valuable to me: Paul Herbert, biologist evolutionist, presented a new research project BIOSCAN, Julia Essaïdi spoke of biological oriented materials and bio-arts, Maxwell Gomer has focused on the importance of oral tradition on biodiversity in local community while Carrie Seltzer has emphasized the importance of the new way of communication channels in sharing biodiversity information. The audience was involved and participants got the chance to reexamine and change their attitudes, shift their way of thinking regarding the processes that are related to nature, and decide to become more engaged in society, at the local and global level.
While plenary sessions revealed new visions and global approaches to scientific data collection and processing, each individual session was directed to programs and projects dedicated to adequate storing, maintaining and data sharing, at the local and global levels.
Tremendous work presented in one place
The poster presentations, exhibited in corridors of concert hall Stadsgehoorzaal, allowed a quick scan of tremendous work done in this area all over the world. Thousands of researches, in different related areas, have spent days and months gathering biodiversity data, its conditions and forms.
Facing numerous information on data processing, completed and future projects raised a feeling of fear of unknown in me, as I realize that I am only at the doorstep of “biodiversity data collection and processing.” But, as the conference progressed, the feeling of unease faded away and all my attention was directed to the themes and experiences of speakers.
Learn from best institutions
Soon we realized that problems that our institutions are facing are not too different from those in other countries. It is important not to compare ourselves with leading European and world institutions or experts and to immediately accomplish what they have done over past decades. To learn from them and lean on their experience is essential so that all relevant stakeholders stay committed to continuous data collection, improvement of data management and verification in line with IT development, sharing new knowledge and experiences in data processing (the try-and-mistake principle), push the scientific community to permanent reexamination and push back to “overcome lessons” or “well-known material.”
Listening to the presentations, it became obvious that as society got more involved in processes of establishing and maintaining information systems in the field of nature, its willingness for sharing information was higher. During one of the panel discussions, Peter Schalk, director of Naturalis Biodiversity Center, emphasized the problems in sharing data on nature. In the beginning, according to him, even very famous research institutions and museums rejected cooperation. Of course, the position has later changed because the common interests were recognized and common projects and initiatives were established.
Scientists should take point
For me it is very important to emphasize the roles of scientific communities, whose leading position in this area is irreplaceable. They have to take over the initiative to lead and improve the information systems as well as to communicate to policy makers about the importance of this task.
At the end, trying to summarize the impressions from the conference, I want to underline the significance of collaborative work on the establishment of an information system and the synergy of different opinions and ideas. No matter how the system is organized – locally or regionally, if it covers one or more groups of organisms, it is important that it is based on the collaboration of many actors. It gives the system a better chance to respond to numerous demands of its users.