A large-scale European Infrastructure for Biodiversity Research

The European Strategic Forum for Research Infrastructures selects the Life Watch plan to build a biodiversity research infrastructure in its first Roadmap for new large-scale Research Infrastructures.

19 October 2006, Brussels - The European Strategic Forum for Research Infrastructures (ESFRI) published today its selection of the most promising next generation large-scale Research Infrastructures. In the area of biodiversity research the LIFE WATCH plan was selected. The plan aims at constructing an e-Science and Technology Infrastructure for biodiversity data and observatories.

This initiative developed by 8 major EU scientific networks is the first step towards the realisation of the infrastructure. It builds upon preceding developments such as the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), and 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.

The Life Watch infrastructure will boost many developments. The wealth of large data sets from different levels of biodiversity opens up new and exciting research opportunities. This large-scale approach supports the understanding and managing of the impacts of climate change on the distribution, adaptation and functions of biodiversity. The infrastructure will promote and facilitate value-added networking both with respect to data and tools, and will enable a more focussed attention of the scientific communities on common problems.

Managing biodiversity change

Changes in biodiversity are having serious effects on the capability of ecosystems to provide essential services, which in turn affects the quality of life of citizens as well as social and economic aspects of sustainable development. It is increasingly important that novel approaches such as those provided by the Life Watch infrastructure are developed. This will help us to understand and sustainably manage our environment so that spatial requirements for human activities are balanced with the need to protect the natural environment.

Action plan

The action plan to realize the Life Watch infrastructure starts with bringing the project to the level of technical, legal and financial maturity in order to ensure governmental commitment of EU member states to start the construction. A consortium of public and private partners will present this plan to the European Commission as a proposal for further collaborative activities within the new 7 th Framework Programme. A variety of stakeholders – the scientific networks, national governments, end-users, and industry – is involved in the developmental activities.

Malta: previous participation and future benefits

Through the Department of Biology of the University of Malta, Malta has participated in a number of European initiatives in the areas of compilation of biodiversity data and setting up of biodiversity observatories. One such project was Fauna Europaea, funded by the European Commission under the Fifth Framework Programme. Fauna Europaea assembled a database of the scientific names and distribution of all living multicellular European land and freshwater animals by organising a network of specialists to contribute data on all species currently known in Europe. A research group led by Prof. Patrick J. Schembri from the Department of Biology was the focal point for Malta in this network, and had the specific tasks of contributing faunistic data, checking European checklists with national lists, and contributing to digital data management and data mining. Another initiative of this group was to have the Rdum Majjiesa area on the west coast of Malta accepted as a BIOMARE European Marine Biodiversity Research Site under the BIOMARE project. This project, sponsored by the European Commission, sought to establish a network of marine coastal sites for comparative studies of marine biodiversity throughout Europe. The Department of Biology has recently been accepted as an Associate Member of the MarBEF (Marine Biodiversity and Ecosystem Functioning) Network of Excellence, funded under the EU’s Sixth Research Framework Programme. MarBEF brings together some 60 marine research institutes in 17 countries.

Life Watch will provide new enabling techniques for faster and more standardized data capture from field sites and collections. This is of interest for every country, and Maltese participation in this initiative will contribute to the international effort to safeguard European biodiversity while at the same time ensuring that Malta would benefit from new techniques and the associated research and support infrastructures.

Web sites
Life Watch http://www.lifewatch.eu/
ESFRI http://cordis.europa.eu/esfri/

Cooperating networks
ALTER-Net (Terrestrial and Freshwater Biodiversity)
EDIT (European Distributed Institute of Taxonomy)
EUR-OCEANS (Ocean Ecosystems Analysis)
MarBEF (Marine Biodiversity and Ecosystem Functioning)
MGE (Marine Genomics Europe)
SYNTHESYS (Infrastructure network of biological collections)
ENBI (European Network for Biodiversity Information)
BioCASE ( Biological Collection Access Service for Europe)

Prof. Patrick J. Schembri
Department of Biology, University of Malta