Data sharing tools developed by an EU project are helping scientists worldwide understand more about the planet’s millions of species. A new article published on CORDIS and DAE looks into the benefits of the FP7 funded project VIBRANT.
One of the biggest challenges facing natural history experts is how to classify and share the mass of data constantly being collected on the Earth’s millions of species.
The three-year VIBRANT project developed a network of online scientific communities collecting data on biodiversity and equipped them with the tools for sharing and publishing their data. Through these activities the project contributed to reducing the fragmentation of efforts aiming to develop biodiversity informatics systems and software.
Based on Scratchpads, an open-source and free to use online platform, VIBRANT has helped create hundreds of new online communities.
The communities are linked together online and feed their data into the most important international biodiversity databases. VIBRANT helps users prepare papers for publication, build bibliographic databases and create reference collections of images and observations. A tool for rapid geospatial analysis of species distributions, a citizen-science marine monitoring platform as well as a biodiversity data analysis framework are also part of the ecosystem of services developed by VIBRANT.
ANTS TO BATS, LOBSTERS TO WHALES
VIBRANT has grown the number of user communities from around 100 under EDIT, an earlier EU project, to over 580 today. Some 6 500 active users are investigating an enormous range of species, at global scale. One site alone on stick insects (phasmids) has over 1 000 users, revealing the large community of people interested in culturing phasmid species.
‘My taxonomic background is in parasitic lice, of which there are about 5 000 particular species that live on about 5 000 mammals and 10 000 birds. Fighting to study that group, I found it enormously difficult to manage all this information,’ explained VIBRANT coordinator Dr Vince Smith, of London’s Natural History Museum.
Using the Scratchpads template, professional and amateur scientists, wherever they are based in the world, create their own subject-specific websites hosted at the museum.
They share their data by publishing it online, while retaining ownership over it and respecting the terms and conditions of the network set up by VIBRANT.
Scratchpads also provides ready access to a range of analytical tools, identification keys and databases that have been developed or enhanced throughout the project.
VIBRANT has also set up a novel, community peer-reviewed, open-access journal, the Biodiversity Data Journal (BDJ). Scratchpads users can input their research into a template which then makes it possible for them to produce a specific paper, publishing it internationally, online, in the BDJ and crediting them for the research. This is made possible via the development of the Pensoft Writing Tool (PWT), which is a leading example of the next generation of scholarly publishing. The PWT is acting as an integrated authoring, peer-review publishing and online collaborative platform which links the Scratchpads to the BDJ.
BIG DATA IN THE INTERNATIONAL CONSERVATION EFFORT
VIBRANT helps all researchers to easily share and link their data with major biodiversity repositories. For example, the Scratchpads collaborate with GBIF (the Global Biodiversity Information Facility), PESI (the EU’s Pan-European Species directories Infrastructure), the Biodiversity Heritage Library and the online collaborative Encyclopedia of Life, which is aiming to document all the planet’s 1.9 million known living species.
Dr Thomas Couvreur in Cameroon is maintaining a Scratchpads community on African palms and the tropical plant family Annonaceae. ‘They provide a professional platform for collaboration between my colleagues around the world, allowing us to share resources such as photos of species, datasets, bibliography and general information,’ he commented. Another coordinator, Eli Sarnat, in California, USA, has one on ants: ‘The platform has solved a big challenge for me: what biodiversity data I should be recording and how I should be recording it.’
The VIBRANT project ran from December 2010 to November 2013. It involved 17 partners from 9 countries, led by the Natural History Museum, London, and received FP7 funding of 4.75 million euros.