#TDWG2022 recap: TDWG and Pensoft welcomed 400 biodiversity information experts from 41 countries in Sofia

For the 37th time, experts from across the world to share and discuss the latest developments surrounding biodiversity data and how they are being gathered, used, shared and integrated across time, space and disciplines.

Between 17th and 21st October, about 400 scientists and experts took part in a hybrid meeting dedicated to the development, use and maintenance of biodiversity data, technologies, and standards across the world.

This year, the conference was hosted by Pensoft in collaboration with the National Museum of Natural History (Bulgaria) and the Institute of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Research at the Bulgarian Academy of Science. It ran under the theme “Stronger Together: Standards for linking biodiversity data”.

For the 37th time, the global scientific and educational association Biodiversity Information Standards (TDWG) brought together experts from all over the globe to share and discuss the latest developments surrounding biodiversity data and how they are being gathered, used, shared and integrated across time, space and disciplines.

This was the first time the event happened in a hybrid format. It was attended by 160 people on-site, while another 235 people joined online. 

The TDWG 2022 conference saw plenty of networking and engaging discussions with as many as 160 on-site attendees and another 235 people, who joined the event remotely.

The conference abstracts, submitted by the event’s speakers ahead of the meeting, provide a sneak peek into their presentations and are all publicly available in the TDWG journal Biodiversity Information Science and Standards (BISS).

“It’s wonderful to be in the Balkans and Bulgaria for our Biodiversity Information and Standards (TDWG) 2022 conference! Everyone’s been so welcoming and thoughtfully engaged in conversations about biodiversity information and how we can all collaborate, contribute and benefit,”

said Deborah Paul, Chair of TDWG, a biodiversity informatics specialist and community liaison at the University of Illinois, Prairie Research Institute‘s Illinois Natural History Survey and also an active participant in the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections (SPNHC), the Entomological Collections Network (ECN), ICEDIG, the Research Data Alliance (RDA), and The Carpentries.

“Our TDWG mission is to create, maintain and promote the use of open, community-driven standards to enable sharing and use of biodiversity data for all,”

she added.
Prof Lyubomir Penev (Pensoft) and Deborah Paul (TDWG) at TDWG 2022.

“We are proud to have been selected to be the hosts of this year’s TDWG annual conference and are definitely happy to have joined and observed so many active experts network and share their know-how and future plans with each other, so that they can collaborate and make further progress in the way scientists and informaticians work with biodiversity information,”  

said Pensoft’s founder and CEO Prof. Lyubomir Penev.

“As a publisher of multiple globally renowned scientific journals and books in the field of biodiversity and ecology, at Pensoft we assume it to be our responsibility to be amongst the first to implement those standards and good practices, and serve as an example in the scholarly publishing world. Let me remind you that it is the scientific publications that present the most reliable knowledge the world and science has, due to the scrutiny and rigour in the review process they undergo before seeing the light of day,”

he added.

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In a nutshell, the main task and dedication of the TDWG association is to develop and maintain standards and data-sharing protocols that support the infrastructures (e.g., The Global Biodiversity Information Facility – GBIF), which aggregate and facilitate use of these data, in order to inform and expand humanity’s knowledge about life on Earth.

It is the goal of everyone at TDWG to let scientists interested in the world’s biodiversity to do their work efficiently and in a manner that can be understood, shared and reused.

It is the goal of everyone volunteering their time and expertise to TDWG to enable the scientists interested in the world’s biodiversity to do their work efficiently and in a manner that can be understood, shared and reused by others. After all, biodiversity data underlie everything we know about the natural world.

If there are optimised and universal standards in the way researchers store and disseminate biodiversity data, all those biodiversity scientists will be able to find, access and use the knowledge in their own work much more easily. As a result, they will be much better positioned to contribute new knowledge that will later be used in nature and ecosystem conservation by key decision-makers.

On Monday, the event opened with welcoming speeches by Deborah Paul and Prof. Lyubomir Penev in their roles of the Chair of TDWG and the main host of this year’s conference, respectively.

The opening ceremony continued with a keynote speech by Prof. Pavel Stoev, Director of the Natural History Museum of Sofia and co-host of TDWG 2022. 

Prof. Pavel Stoev (Natural History Museum of Sofia) with a presentation about the known and unknown biodiversity of Bulgaria during the opening plenary session of TDWG 2022.

He walked the participants through the fascinating biodiversity of Bulgaria, but also the worrying trends in the country associated with declining taxonomic expertise. 

He finished his talk with a beam of hope by sharing about the recently established national unit of DiSSCo, whose aim – even if a tad too optimistic – is to digitise one million natural history items in four years, of which 250,000 with photographs. So far, one year into the project, the Bulgarian team has managed to digitise more than 32,000 specimens and provide images to 10,000 specimens.

The plenary session concluded with a keynote presentation by renowned ichthyologist and biodiversity data manager Dr. Richard L. Pyle, who is also a manager of ZooBank – the key international database for newly described species.

Keynote presentation by Dr Richard L. Pyle (Bishop Museum, USA) at the opening plenary session of TDWG 2022.

In his talk, he highlighted the gaps in the ways taxonomy is being used, thereby impeding biodiversity research and cutting off a lot of opportunities for timely scientific progress.

“There are simple things we can do to change how we use taxonomy as a tool that would dramatically improve our ability to conduct science and understand biodiversity. There is enormous value and utility within existing databases around the world to understand biodiversity, how threatened it is, what impacts human activity has (especially climate change), and how to optimise the protection and preservation of biodiversity,”

he said in an interview for a joint interview by the Bulgarian News Agency and Pensoft.

“But we do not have easy access to much of this information because the different databases are not well integrated. Taxonomy offers us the best opportunity to connect this information together, to answer important questions about biodiversity that we have never been able to answer before. The reason meetings like this are so important is that they bring people together to discuss ways of using modern informatics to greatly increase the power of the data we already have, and prioritise how we fill the gaps in data that exist. Taxonomy, and especially taxonomic data integration, is a very important part of the solution.”

Pyle also commented on the work in progress at ZooBank ten years into the platform’s existence and its role in the next (fifth) edition of the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature, which is currently being developed by the International Commission of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN). 

“We already know that ZooBank will play a more important role in the next edition of the Code than it has for these past ten years, so this is exactly the right time to be planning new services for ZooBank. Improvements at ZooBank will include things like better user-interfaces on the web to make it easier and faster to use ZooBank, better data services to make it easier for publishers to add content to ZooBank as part of their publication workflow, additional information about nomenclature and taxonomy that will both support the next edition of the Code, and also help taxonomists get their jobs done more efficiently and effectively. Conferences like the TDWG one are critical for helping to define what the next version of ZooBank will look like, and what it will do.”

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During the week, the conference participants had the opportunity to enjoy a total of 140 presentations; as well as multiple social activities, including a field trip to Rila Monastery and a traditional Bulgarian dinner.

TDWG 2022 conference participants document their species observations on their way to Rila Monastery.

While going about the conference venue and field trip localities, the attendees were also actively uploading their species observations made during their stay in Bulgaria on iNaturalist in a TDWG2022-dedicated BioBlitz. The challenge concluded with a total of 635 observations and 228 successfully identified species.

Amongst the social activities going on during TDWG 2022 was a BioBlitz, where the conference participants could uploade their observations made in Bulgaria on iNaturalist and help each other successfully identify the specimens.

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In his interview for the Bulgarian News Agency and Pensoft, Dr Vincent Smith, Head of the Informatics Division at the Natural History Museum, London (United Kingdom), co-founder of DiSSCo, the Distributed System of Scientific Collections, and the Editor-in-Chief of Biodiversity Data Journal, commented: 

“Biodiversity provides the support systems for all life on Earth. Yet the natural world is in peril, and we face biodiversity and climate emergencies. The consequences of these include accelerating extinction, increased risk from zoonotic disease, degradation of natural capital, loss of sustainable livelihoods in many of the poorest yet most biodiverse countries of the world, challenges with food security, water scarcity and natural disasters, and the associated challenges of mass migration and social conflicts.

Solutions to these problems can be found in the data associated with natural science collections. DiSSCo is a partnership of the institutions that digitise their collections to harness their potential. By bringing them together in a distributed, interoperable research infrastructure, we are making them physically and digitally open, accessible, and usable for all forms of research and innovation. 

At present rates, digitising all of the UK collection – which holds more than 130 million specimens collected from across the globe and is being taken care of by over 90 institutions – is likely to take many decades, but new technologies like machine learning and computer vision are dramatically reducing the time it will take, and we are presently exploring how robotics can be applied to accelerate our work.”

Dr Vincent Smith, Head of the Informatics Division at the Natural History Museum, London, co-founder of DiSSCo, and Editor-in-Chief of Biodiversity Data Journal at the TDWG 2022 conference.

In his turn, Dr Donat Agosti, CEO and Managing director at Plazi – a not-for-profit organisation supporting and promoting the development of persistent and openly accessible digital taxonomic literature – said:

“All the data about biodiversity is in our libraries, that include over 500 million pages, and everyday new publications are being added. No person can read all this, but machines allow us to mine this huge, very rich source of data. We do not know how many species we know, because we cannot analyse with all the scientists in this library, nor can we follow new publications. Thus, we do not have the best possible information to explore and protect our biological environment.”

Dr Donat Agosti demonstrating the importance of publishing biodiversity data in a structured and semantically enhanced format in one of his presentations at TDWG 2022.

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At the closing plenary session, Gail Kampmeier – TDWG Executive member and one of the first zoologists to join TDWG in 1996 – joined via Zoom to walk the conference attendees through the 37-year history of the association, originally named the Taxonomic Databases Working Group, but later transformed to Biodiversity Information Standards, as it expanded its activities to the whole range of biodiversity data. 

“While this presentation is about TDWG’s history as an organisation, its focus will be on the heart of TDWG: its people. We would like to show how the organisation has evolved in terms of gender balance, inclusivity actions, and our engagement to promote and enhance diversity at all levels. But more importantly, where do we—as a community—want to go in the future?”,

reads the conference abstract of her colleague at TDWG Dr Visotheary Ung (CNRS-MNHN) and herself.

Then, in the final talk of the session, Deborah Paul took to the stage to present the progress and key achievements by the association from 2022.

She gave a special shout-out to the TDWG journal: Biodiversity Information Science and Standards (BISS), where for the 6th consecutive year, the participants of the annual conference submitted and published their conference abstracts ahead of the event. 

Deborah Paul reminds that – apart from the conference abstracts – the TDWG journal: Biodiversity Information Science and Standards (BISS) also welcomes full-lenght articles that demonstrate the development or application of new methods and approaches in biodiversity informatics.

Launched in 2017 on the Pensoft’s publishing platform ARPHA, the journal provides the quite unique and innovative opportunity to have both abstracts and full-length research papers published in a modern, technologically-advanced scholarly journal. In her speech, Deborah Paul reminded that BISS journal welcomes research articles that demonstrate the development or application of new methods and approaches in biodiversity informatics in the form of case studies.

Amongst the achievements of TDWG and its community, a special place was reserved for the Horizon 2020-funded BiCIKL project (abbreviation for Biodiversity Community Integrated Knowledge Library), involving many of the association’s members. 

Having started in 2021, the 3-year project, coordinated by Pensoft, brings together 14 partnering institutions from 10 countries, and 15 biodiversity under the common goal to create a centralised place to connect all key biodiversity data by interlinking a total of 15 research infrastructures and their databases.

Deborah Paul also reported on the progress of the Horizon 2020-funded project BiCIKL, which involves many of the TDWG members. BiCIKL’s goal is to create a centralised place to connect all key biodiversity data by interlinking 15 key research infrastructures and their databases.

In fact, following the week-long TDWG 2022 conference in Sofia, a good many of the participants set off straight for another Bulgarian city and another event hosted by Pensoft. The Second General Assembly of BiCIKL took place between 22nd and 24th October in Plovdiv.

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You can also explore highlights and live tweets from TDWG 2022 on Twitter via #TDWG2022.
The Pensoft team at TDWG 2022 were happy to become the hosts of the 37th TDWG conference.

‘Who is in your database and why does it matter?’

The uncertainty about a person’s identity hampers research, hinders the discovery of expertise, and obstructs the ability to give attribution or credit for work performed. 

Collection discovery through disambiguation

Guest blog post by Sabine von Mering, Heather Rogers, Siobhan Leachman, David P. ShorthouseDeborah Paul & Quentin Groom

Worldwide, natural history institutions house billions of physical objects in their collections, they create and maintain data about these items, and they share their data with aggregators such as the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), the Integrated Digitized Biocollections (iDigBio), the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA), Genbank and the European Nucleotide Archive (ENA). 

Even though these data often include the names of the people who collected or identified each object, such statements may be ambiguous, as the names frequently lack any globally unique, machine-readable concept of their shared identity.

Despite the data being available online, barriers exist to effectively use the information about who collects or provides the expertise to identify the collection objects. People have similar names, change their name over the course of their lifetime (e.g. through marriage), or there may be variability introduced through the label transcription process itself (e.g. local look-up lists). 

As a result, researchers and collections staff often spend a lot of time deducing who is the person or people behind unknown collector strings while collating or tidying natural history data. The uncertainty about a person’s identity hampers research, hinders the discovery of expertise, and obstructs the ability to give attribution or credit for work performed. 

Disambiguation activities: the act of churning strings into verifiable things using all available evidence – need not be done in isolation. In addition to presenting a workflow on how to disambiguate people in collections, we also make the case that working in collaboration with colleagues and the general public presents new opportunities and introduces new efficiencies. There is tacit knowledge everywhere.

More often than not, data about people involved in biodiversity research are scattered across different digital platforms. However, with linking information sources to each other by using person identifiers, we can better trace the connections in these networks, so that we can weave a more interoperable narrative about every actor.

That said, inconsistent naming conventions or lack of adequate accreditation often frustrate the realization of this vision. This sliver of natural history could be churned to gold with modest improvements in long-term funding for human resources, adjustments to digital infrastructure, space for the physical objects themselves alongside their associated documents, and sufficient training on how to disambiguate people’s names.

“He aha te mea nui o te ao. He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata.

“What is the most important thing in the world? It is people, it is people, it is people.”

(Māori proverb)

The process of properly disambiguating those who have contributed to natural history collections takes time. 

The disambiguation process involves the extra challenge of trying to deduce “who is who” for legacy data, compared to undertaking this activity for people alive today. Retrospective disambiguation can require considerable detective work, especially for scarcely known people or if the community has a different naming convention. Provided the results of this effort are well-communicated and openly shared, mercifully, it need only be done once.

At the core of our research is the question of how to solve the issue of assigning proper credit

In our recent Methods paper, we discuss several methods for this, as well as available routes for making records available online that include not only the names of people expressed as text, but additionally twinned with their unique, resolvable identifiers. 

Disambiguation is a cycle. Enrichment of the data feeds off itself leading to further disambiguation. As more names are disambiguated and more biographical data are accumulated, it becomes easier to disambiguate more names. 

First and foremost, we should maintain our own public biographical data by making full use of ORCID. In addition to preserving our own scientific legacy and that of the institutions that employ us, we have a responsibility to avoid generating unnecessary disambiguation work for others. 

For legacy data, where the people connected to the collections are deceased, Wikidata can be used to openly document rich bibliographic and demographic data, each statement with one or more verifiable references. Wikidata can also act as a bridge to link other sources of authority such as VIAF or ORCID identifiers. It has many tools and services to bulk import, export, and to query information, making it well-suited as a universal democratiser of information about people often walled-off in collection management systems (CMS). 

A network of the top twenty most used identifiers for biologists on Wikidata.

Once unique identifiers for people are integrated in collection management systems, these may be shared with the global collections and research community using the new Darwin Core terms, recordedByID or identifiedByID along with the well-known, yet text-based terms, recordedBy or identifiedBy. 

Approximately 120 datasets published through GBIF now make use of these identifier-based terms, which are additionally resolved in Bionomia every few weeks alongside co-curated attributions newly made there. This roundtrip of data – emerging as ambiguous strings of text from the source, affixed with resolvable identifiers elsewhere, absorbed into the source as new digital annotations, and then re-emerging with these fresh, identifier-based enhancements – is an exciting approach to co-manage collections data.

Round tripping. In Bionomia, people identifiers from Wikidata and ORCID are used to enrich data published via GBIF, thus linking natural history specimens to the world’s collectors.

Disambiguation work is particularly important in recognising contributors who have been historically marginalized. For example, gender bias in specimen data can be seen in the case of Wilmatte Porter Cockerell, a prolific collector of botanical, entomological and fossil specimens. Cockerell’s collections are often attributed to her husband as he was also a prolific collector and the two frequently collected together. 

On some labels, her identity is further obscured as she is simply recorded as “& wife” (see example on GBIF). Since Wilmatte Cockerell was her husband’s second wife, it can take some effort to confirm if a specimen can be attributed to her and not her husband’s first wife, who was also involved in collecting specimens. By ensuring that Cockerell is disambiguated and her contributions are appropriately attributed, the impact of her work becomes more visible enabling her work to be properly and fairly credited.

Thus, disambiguation work helps to not only give credit where credit is due, thereby making data about people and their biodiversity collections more findable, but it also creates an inclusive and representative narrative of the landscape of people involved with scientific knowledge creation, identification, and preservation. 

A future – once thought to be a dream – where the complete scientific output of a person is connected as Linked Open Data (LOD) is now

Both the tools and infrastructure are at our disposal and the demand is palpable. All institutions can contribute to this movement by sharing data that include unique identifiers for the people in their collections. We recommend that institutions develop a strategy, perhaps starting with employees and curatorial staff, people of local significance, or those who have been marginalized, and to additionally capitalize on existing disambiguation activities elsewhere. This will have local utility and will make a significant, long-term impact. 

The more we participate in these activities, the greater chance we will uncover positive feedback loops, which will act to lighten the workload for all involved, including our future selves!

The disambiguation of people in collections is an ongoing process, but it becomes easier with practice. We also encourage collections staff to consider modifying their existing workflows and policies to include identifiers for people at the outset, when new data are generated or when new specimens are acquired. 

There is more work required at the global level to define, update, and ratify standards and best practices to help accelerate data exchange or roundtrips of this information; there is room for all contributions. Thankfully, there is a diverse, welcoming, energetic, and international community involved in these activities. 

We see a bright future for you, our collections, and our research products – well within reach – when the identities of people play a pivotal role in the construction of a knowledge graph of life.

You would like to participate and need support getting disambiguation of your collection started? Please contact our TDWG People in Biodiversity Data Task Group.

A good start is also to check Bionomia to find out what metrics exist now for your institution or collection and affiliated people.

The next steps for collections: 7 objectives that can help to disambiguate your institutions’ collection:

1. Promote the use of person identifiers in local, national or international outreach, publishing and research activities

2. Increase the number of collection management systems that use person identifiers

3. Increase the number of living collectors registered and using an ORCID identifier when contributing to collections

4. Undertake disambiguation in the national languages of many countries

5. Increase the number of identified people on Wikidata linked to collections

6. Increase the number of people in collections with expertise in person disambiguation

7. Collaborate towards an exchange standard for attribution data

A real example of how a name string is disambiguated and the steps taken in documenting it. Wikidata item of Jean-André Soulié

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Methods publication:

Groom Q, Bräuchler C, Cubey RWN, Dillen M, Huybrechts P, Kearney N, Klazenga N, Leachman S, Paul DL, Rogers H, Santos J, Shorthouse DP, Vaughan A, von Mering S, Haston EM (2022) The disambiguation of people names in biological collections. Biodiversity Data Journal 10: e86089. https://doi.org/10.3897/BDJ.10.e86089

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This October, the hybrid TDWG 2022 conference will address standards for linking biodiversity data

From 17th to 21st October 2022, the Biodiversity Information Standards (TDWG) conference – to be held in Sofia – will run under the theme “Stronger Together: Standards for linking biodiversity data”.

Between 17th and 21st October 2022, the Biodiversity Information Standards (TDWG) conference – to be held in Sofia, Bulgaria – will run under the theme “Stronger Together: Standards for linking biodiversity data”.

The event will be hosted by scholarly publisher and technology provider Pensoft, in collaboration with the National Museum of Natural History, and the Institute of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Research at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. This year, the event will be welcoming participants in-person, as well as virtually.

In addition to opening and closing plenaries, the conference will feature 14 symposia and a mix of other formats that include lightning talks, a workshop, and panel discussion, and contributed oral presentations and virtual posters. 

For a seventh year in a row, all abstracts submitted to the annual conference are made publicly available in the dedicated TDWG journal: Biodiversity Information Science and Standards (BISS Journal).

Thus, the abstracts – published ahead of the event itself – are not only permanently and freely available in a ‘mini-paper’ format, but will also provide conference participants with a sneak peek into what’s coming at the much anticipated conference.

Learn more about the unique features of BISS.

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Register and find more about the TDWG 2022 conference on Pensoft Event Manager.

See the Call for Abstracts and learn how to submit your abstract today.

Visit the TDWG conference website.

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Ahead, during and after the conference, join the conversation on Twitter via #tdwg2022.

Don’t forget to also follow TDWG (Twitter and Facebook), BISS Journal (Twitter and Facebook) and Pensoft (Twitter and Facebook) on social media.

Not Your Typical Conference Abstract #TDWG2021

TDWG 2021, the virtual conference of Biodiversity Information Standards (TDWG) being held 18–22 October, issued a call for abstracts representing presentations in fifteen symposia, as well as posters (including infographics), and contributed oral presentations appropriate to the conference theme Connecting the world of biodiversity data: uniting people, processes, and tools. Registration is now open, with the deadline for abstract submission set to 2 August 2021.

Joint blog post by #TDWG2021 Program Committee and Pensoft Editorial Team

TDWG 2021, the virtual conference of Biodiversity Information Standards (TDWG) being held 18–22 October, issued a call for abstracts representing presentations in fifteen symposia, as well as posters (including infographics), and contributed oral presentations appropriate to the conference theme Connecting the world of biodiversity data: uniting people, processes, and tools. Registration is now open, with the deadline for abstract submission set to 2 August 2021

Detailed instructions have also been made available to guide authors through the process. Abstract publication costs are included in the conference registration. All presenters must be fully registered before their abstracts can be published. 

Why are these not your typical conference abstracts? 

In short, each published abstract is a mini-paper designed to entice conference participants to attend your presentation, but, even more importantly, to let you provide something more enduring, a snapshot of your research progress the size of a written elevator pitch.

Using Pensoft’s ARPHA writing tool, you can enhance your abstract, so that it includes figures, keywords, references, and supplementary materials. Slides, posters, and video links can also be added to the abstract’s media tab after the conference, to build a well-rounded understanding of your work. TDWG’s open access Pensoft journal, Biodiversity Information Science and Standards (BISS), will even provide metrics about views, downloads, citations, or even online mentions of your abstract. 

Benefits of publishing your TDWG conference abstract: 

  • Free and open access to your abstract ahead of the conference via the society’s open access Pensoft journal, Biodiversity Information Science and Standards (BISS) 
  • A Digital Object Identifier (DOI), a unique, persistent, and citable reference assigned to each abstract 
  • Distribution of abstracts under the terms of Creative Commons attribution licenses, either CC BY 4.0 (default) or CC0 (by request).
  • Review provided by at least two editors for each abstract.
  • Readers can comment or ask questions within the Comment tab in the publication. Authors may also use the Comment tab for updates or errata.
  • Automatic linking of your abstract to your author record via ORCID and/or Web of Science (Publons) ResearcherID.
  • To prompt discoverability, all articles, including abstracts, are automatically harvested upon publication by a range of indexers, from AGRIS to ZDB.
  • Technical editors are cited as part of the article metadata. 
  • Abstracts are associated with the conference session in which they were presented.
  • Easy to create buzz around your presentation by sharing your abstract on Twitter, Facebook, Mendeley, Reddit, or via email with a single click thanks to share buttons.

While BISS is currently known as (just) a place to publish conference proceedings, this is a misconception. Authors are encouraged to publish full articles of methods, standards, guidelines, case studies, software descriptions, forum papers, editorials, correspondence, data or software reviews. BISS provides a discount on the article processing charges (APCs) for TDWG members.

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Join the conversation around this year’s Biodiversity Information Standards (TDWG) conference on Twitter via #TDWG2021.

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Visit BISS Journal website at: https://biss.pensoft.net/ and follow on Twitter and Facebook.