04.06.2016 10:49

The needs of taxonomic information in the European Environment Agency


One of the insights from a recent meeting between the European Environment Agency (EEA) and EU BON has been a better understanding of the needs of taxonomic data by the EEA for monitoring. With few words, large datasets that are accurate and updated at a regular base. What is this?

The EU spends a lot its resources to build a satellite based environment observation system with remote sensing data at 1 Meter resolution (Copernicus) which essentially allows monitoring the fate of a single tree. With other words, the baseline is a very regular update of highly resolved earth observation data. 

To complement this, the biodiversity data should be at a similar resolution, both spatially and timely, with a high accuracy (identification) and large enough to provide input for adequate distribution models and further downstream management tools. For anything else, there are no resources.

What does it mean? Essentially only bird observation data are good enough, may be some buttterfly observation data. Data from natural history museums nor the long tail of data from the published record are useful.

The consequence is, that despite the huge effort to digitize the natural history museums collections, this data does not qualify. It might be helpful to understand at a very coarse level changes over time. For extracting observation data from the published record, this is even less.

The source of the bird observation data is not the sciences, but citizen scientists who developed a highly sophisticated system producing an enormous amount of high quality data. With that the scientists and research is sidelined. They are just not good enough and up to this task. It is in fact not the scientists that produce data anymore. What then is the niche of taxonomy, being out of the loop to solve this single most important problem we face, global biodiversity crisis?

Another aspect of the bird data is that there are issues in Europe regarding access. Whilst in the US, the data is open accessible, the supplier in Europe are not as open, which causes problems for systems like the European Biodiversity Observation Network (EU BON) that essentially ought to be built on open data.

A further aspect of the EEA approach is that only an extremely small fraction of biodiversity is in fact monitored. Is there a way that the published record could make a contribution, widen the taxonomic focus? It seems obvious that we need new field data, and with that identifications (keys, illustrations, descriptions) play a vital role.  The best we can do is to make use of the chance the digital world provides, to provide an open biodiversity knowledge system that supports interested parties in the field to collect other taxa, such as pollinators, or mosqitoes. But may be here too, we might be too slow and the commercial sector will prevail.