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Introduction to the Fauna Europaea project


In Europe various scientific institutes have produced partial taxonomic overviews and a few countries have worked on national biodiversity information systems. However, up to March 2001 (when the Fauna Europaea project was initiated) there was no complete European taxonomic database even if the need for such a database had not only long been felt but had increased with time.

Fauna Europaea (FaEu) was funded by the European Union through its 5th Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development. Within the framework of the European Union’s Biodiversity Strategy, the aim of FaEu was to produce a central database with a unique comprehensive list of valid accepted scientific names of the terrestrial and freshwater multicellular animal species that currently live in Europe, and information about their distribution at least at a European country level.

The project was officially over on 31st October 2004 and the first version of the database, with browsing and search facilities, is now available on the web.  The database may be accessed at (http://www.faunaeur.org/about_fauna_intro.php). Links to additional data, in particular other related European biodiversity services and taxonomic registers, are available. The database also includes information with respect to the present state of understanding of the European non-marine fauna by indicating gaps in knowledge and expertise in Europe.

The FaEu geographical system includes the European mainland, the Macaronesian islands (excluding Cape Verde Is.), Malta, Cyprus, Franz Josef Land and Novaya Zemlya, the Western Kazakhstan excluded (Fig.1).

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Figure 1. Geographical area covered by the Fauna Europaea project

  

This informatics infrastructure has been designed to allow continuous updating and should serve as a unique reference database for many users in science, government, industry, conservation, and education. Fauna Europaea is envisaged to play a major role in supplying taxonomic biodiversity data that is much required to assist the assessment, sustainable exploitation and management of biodiversity, and the monitoring of biodiversity change.


The Overall Objectives of FaEu

The objectives of the FaEu database project were:

  1. The development of a public website on the present living, multicellular, European, terrestrial and freshwater animal species. The information includes: names, synonyms, distribution at country level, and selected additional data.
  2. To create a network of researchers, database custodians, and users. Such a network helps to build and maintain an infrastructure that will promote continuity in the collation of validated taxonomic data.
  3. To produce an overview of the state of the art with respect to knowledge and expertise. A ‘gap analysis’ reports insufficient data, knowledge or experts, resulting in recommendations to the European Commission for implementation in policy and research.
  4. A target of 130,000 species (a 30% increase from the initial estimate of 100,000 species at the beginning of the project)
  5. Preparation and organisation of (validation) meetings.

 

The Organisation

Fauna Europaea was coordinated by the Zoological Museum of the University of Amsterdam, assisted by the Zoological Museum of the University of Copenhagen and the National Museum of Natural History in Paris.  The organisation has been retained to continue updating and developing the website beyond the official end of the project.  To this end, further funds are being searched for to support the maintenance of the database.

 

Taxonomic Framework

For each animal group one or more taxonomic specialists are involved in providing taxonomic expertise and information. The taxonomic and distributional data is passed on to group coordinators, who have the responsibility of keeping contact with the large number of experts throughout Europe that are involved (about 400). Every taxonomic group is covered by at least one group coordinator. Group coordinators are responsible for the integrated input of both taxonomic and distributional data. Finally, the group coordinators forward the information gathered to the Taxonomic Coordinator at the Zoological Museum of Copenhagen. The latter has the complicated task of collating the data for Fauna Europaea and merging it into integrated datasets.

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Validation Framework

The datasets are validated by the National Museum of Natural History in Paris. The data is cross-checked and reviewed with existing national, regional and local lists and literature. Validation workshops are held to discover the more obscure information sources and highlight the identification of gaps in information and expertise.


The FaEu-NAS extension

Initially, only the countries that were members of the European Union were involved in the project.  In the initial part of the Fauna Europaea project however, it was concluded that a stronger involvement of institutes and experts from Eastern Europe was desirable.  In the autumn of 2001, a call from the European Commission was published, which asked for proposals from ongoing projects to extend themselves to the then so-called NAS countries (Newly Associated States, and later known as the candidate and accession countries).  In February 2002 a Fauna Europaea proposal for such an extension was submitted to the EU. This proposal was accepted and in late 2002, the following countries joined the project (all of which are now EU Member States):

 

Bulgaria Czech Republic
Estonia Hungary
Latvia               Lithuania
Malta Poland
Romania Slovakia
Slovenia

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The scope of the extension was to find partner institutes (and experts in these institutes) that might contribute to the following tasks:

  1. To supply faunistic data on their countries and to support the validation process (checking European checklists with national lists)
  2. To contribute to data management and data mining
  3. To organise workshops and conferences

 

FEMI’s Role in the FaEu Project

The Faunistics and Ecology of the Maltese Islands (FEMI) research group at the Department of Biology of the University of Malta was the Malta FaEu project partner and coordinated compilation of data from Malta pertaining to databases as well as contributed original data and other information on the local non-marine fauna. In parallel, within the parameters of the FaEu project, FEMI sought to collaborate in this endeavour with all other local institutions and/or persons who have an interest in the cataloguing of local biodiversity.


The End-Users Forum

End-user requirements
The results of the FaEu project were intended to serve the expanded European Union at a wide level. For this reason, priority setting, product presentation and dissemination plans were discussed with potential end-users of the database. This was done at meetings (forums) with representative end-users, during which the end-user forum made recommendations concerning priority setting and the final data presentation, including linkages to other databases. Two such forums for end-users in EU member states were held up to June 2001. During these meetings, the desired format for the website was discussed following a questionnaire that had been disseminated within the EU member states.


NAS End-user requirements
When the project was extended to the Newly Associated States in 2002, it was found necessary to identify the expectations or specific requirements of these NAS countries (including Malta) for the final FaEu product.

As part of this work, FEMI was asked to disseminate a questionnaire to potential end-users in Malta and the other NAS countries (Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia). This questionnaire was aimed at identifying the end-user requirements for NAS countries in order that the final FaEu product is adapted also for the needs of NAS users. After the collation and analysis of the questionnaire, a third meeting was held in March 2003 in Malta to assess the NAS end-user needs.


The National Networks

From the initiation of the project, one of the objectives was to set up national networks of taxonomists. The Fauna Europaea Country Networks are meant for taxonomists who accept to participate on an entirely voluntary basis in the project by providing faunistic and taxonomic data at the request of the designated taxonomists who are actually responsible for putting the database together. After setting up the country network, the names of the experts were distributed to the FaEu network such that interested members of the European network may contact them.

FEMI was asked to set up such a network of Maltese taxonomists. However, Malta is a special case in that there are very few professional taxonomists. Nonetheless, there are a number of ‘parataxonomists’ who, although not taxonomists, have an in-depth knowledge of particular taxonomic groups about which they are able to provide faunistic information if not taxonomic data. Thus, the Malta Network included both taxonomists and 'parataxonomists'.

The role of the members within the Maltese network (FaEu-Malta Network) was to point out omissions, errors and ambiguities, to respond to queries about their particular group, and to supply any useful information on a voluntary basis.  The members of the network participated in validating the taxonomic data for the Maltese Islands that has been incorporated in the first version of the database.  Members of the FaEu-Malta Network also validated new data that is being collected by FaEu specialist taxonomists so as to ensure that the database will continue to be actively updated with the most recently available and correct information.


Recent developments

Fauna Eurpaea is now being mangaged by the Society for the Management of Electronic Biodiversity Data, a non-profit organization aiming to make biodiversity data available for the benefit of science and environmental management through archiving of electronic biodiversity data and encouraging and facilitating data being given an 'added value' by being combined and linked with other data.


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Last Updated: 15 October 2010

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