Global Species Information System for Biodiversity - Progress so far and Roadmap of next steps
An information system on all species of life for research and many other uses
Scientists have so far described an estimated 1.8 million species of animals, plants, funghi and other organisms. Millions more are believed to exist. Their interactions ensure functioning ecosystems in oceans, freshwater and on land. Many of these may disappear before they have even been named, as climate change, land-use change and other factors take their toll.
Naming species, attaching information to this name and making this easily accessible via the internet or other means is an extremely ambitious, yet feasible undertaking that will best be done through international cooperation. Connecting currently dispersed sources of relevant information and making them available through portals will increase analytical capabilities and the usefulness of past and forthcoming efforts exponentially.
Environment ministers want a Global Species Information System
During their meeting from 15-17 March 2007, G8+5 Environment Ministers support the “Potsdam Initiative – Biological Diversity 2010”, which encourages the development of a 'Global Species Information System'.
The global 'backbones'
Many components of such a system already exist. There are three major global initatives which should form the backbone of any more comprehensive system:
- The Catalogue of Life ( CoL) partnership driven by Species2000 and Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS) has recently celebrated the one millionth valid species name, thus offering the most authoritative nomenclature for all initiatives.
- The Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) has currently 46 member countries. It manages currently some 120 million occurrence records on specimen from different species obtained from museum records and field observations. More than 1000 museum provide data to GBIF.
- The Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL)project is in the process of scanning and processing some 12 million pages of biodiversity relevant publications/year. More than 1.25 million pages are already available at http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org.
European efforts so far
Very significant efforts have already been made to organise biodiversity collections (under the 5 th and 6 th Research Framework Programmes and through Member States' significant national efforts). Among these are:
- The consortium “Towards the European Distributed Institute of Taxonomy (EDIT) is funded by the EC since 2006 as a Network of Excellence (FP6). The network aims at integrating taxonomic research throughout Europe and beyond, through a consortium of currently 27 leading European, North American and Russian institutions to build a virtual, distributed centre of excellence for taxonomy.
[ http://www.e-taxonomy.eu/ ]
- The EU research infrastructure project SYNTHESYS aims to network and provide specialist access to Europe’s natural history collections. 20 significant collections from 11 countries are involved. 80% of described species from all parts of the world are in those collections and European museums overall estimate to have half of the world’s biological collections.
[ www.synthesys.info ]
- FishBase is a global web archive about fishes already containing information about 29,500 valid species, 222,400 common names, 43,100 pictures based on 38,900 published references. It makes efforts at presenting information in several languages. FishBase has 1,380 collaborators and about 25 million hits per month.
- MarBEF is a Network of Excellence under the 6 th Research Framework Programme (FP6, 2002-2006), which has taken responsibility for collection of marine data in Europe. MarBEF has some 90 members and builds on existing actions by such projects as MARS, BIOMARE and MARBENA. Together they have taken responsibility for collection of marine research data in Europe, including upkeep of the European Register of Marine Species (ERMS) (approximately 30,000 species) and European Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS) data.
- LifeWatch is an approach to develop an e-science and technology infrastructure for biodiversity data and observations to be supported by the EU Member States. LifeWatch was competitively selected as one of the 35 proposals selected by the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI). It brings together facilities for data generation and interoperability in support of networks of biodiversity observatories (biological collections and field sites), together with digital laboratories offering analytical and modelling tools. It is expected to start its design phase end 2007/early 2008.
- The Natura 2000 Network, the most extensive network of protected areas in Europe, was set up under the "Habitats" and "Wild Birds" Directives to safeguard Europe’s most important wildlife areas and species. Being part of Natura 2000 means that the selected areas benefit from increased protection as set out in the Directives. EU Member States must take all the necessary measures to guarantee their conservation and avoid deterioration. The network, currently covering 27 countries, provides also a relevant knowledge base for habitats and species of interest. Qualitative information are stored into Standard Data Forms by Member States and a GIS tool to link spatial and descriptive information on species and habitats is being developed by DG Environment. Once operational, this should become accessible also through the European portal of the GSIS .
First coordination meeting for the development of a Global Species Information System
The European Commission, in consultation with the rotating EU Presidency, convened the interested major players for a first coordination meeting in Brussels, 19/20 April 2007. Participants from US, Australia, India, South Africa, Brazil and Europe attended, including key EC services, Member State organisations, German EU and G8 presidencies – with a view to
- Identify capabilities of prospective partners
- Identify contributions they are willing to make
- Agree on coordinated announcements of the initiative that will add value to the multitude of partial efforts and will remain open to future expansion (institutions joining).
Biodiversity leaders from China and Russia signalled interest, but could not attend the meeting at that time. Early contacts at working level were also established with Canada and Japan.
The Participants representing biodiversity initiatives and programmes agreed to cooperate in an open manner, leaving the door open to others to join at any later stage. See their communiqué published 9 May 2007 in coordination with the public announcement of regional contributions to the global system. The communiqué also synthesises information on these initiatives and programmes.
The European portal for GSIS
SpeciesBase is the European entry to GSIS and will create a powerful meta-database system for all species on earth (emphasis on Europe) by connecting existing, but dispersed, biodiversity information sources and add powerful analytical capabilities to enable advanced research and at the same time derive knowledge products and services. It will harmonise display of information from more than 1500 databases and will link to other portals to GSIS, such as EOL, so as to support more advanced analyses and use of biodiversity information. Existing and forthcoming initiatives will use SpeciesBase to show their data and results and facilitate more integrated analyses, e.g. LifeWatch, MarBEF, EDIT, SYNTHESYS, Fauna Europaea, Euro+Med PlantBase and others. [www.speciesbase.org]