Africa-wide Biodiversity Informatics Training Available Online

africa wide biodversity informatics trainingIn July and August 2013, the Biodiversity Information Management Directorate at the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) hosted two capacity building workshops for Biodiversity Informatics Training for Africa and the World.

The workshops were facilitated by Professor Andrew Townsend Peterson of The University of Kansas, Biodiversity Institute, and funded by the JRS Biodiversity Foundation.  

These workshops are key outputs of the JRS-supported project and involve running four face-to-face Biodiversity Informatics training courses across Africa-Ghana, South Africa, Kenya and Egypt. The training covers as much as is possible in the field of biodiversity informatics from data capture through data cleaning and publishing to data analysis and interpretation.

The programme is run with a fundamental dual purpose of in-person training by means of getting 10-15 trainees together from across Africa with experts from around the world for a week of relevant learning, discussions, and, the production of online digital materials.  This workshop was attended by leaders of Biodiversity Informatics Institutions from Kenya, Madagascar, Benin, Ghana, South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Course contributors from the Biodiversity Institute of Kansas University in the USA, Brazil's CRIA (Centro de Referência em Informação Ambiental) , which created data cleaning tools, and SANBI shared lessons and experiences. Noteworthy is the fact that CRIA was represented by Vanderlei Canhos. CRIA has created data cleaning tools.  CRIA’s biodiversity information infrastructure showcases Brazil as a regional model, and this was very relevant to South Africa because SA is a mega diverse country like Brazil, with the potential of stimulating south-south collaboration.

The training included inputs from key experts on topics such as Conservation Planning and Prioritisation by Rafael Loyola, and Macroecology and Biodiversity Metrics by Thiago Rangel. This provided a wonderful opportunity for participants to engage and enable further potential collaboration. Experts provided training on software packages such as EstimateS and Zonation, and participants’ derived hands-on experience as exercises were carried out using these tools.

Biodiversity Informatics is a complex, evolving science that has to do with capturing biological data, analysing and interpreting that data so that is becomes information that can be used to solve a vast array of problems that the world is faced with. These problems are not only limited to biodiversity conservation but include disease control management, climate change and adaptation, and development which the rest of the globe is grappling with at the moment.  When biological data is analysed, interpreted, and recorded in a meaningful way, it creates solutions that are in line with biodiversity conservation and development priorities.  

For Biodiversity Informatics to be relevant in providing solutions, certain “data gaps” have to be addressed. These include issues of feedback and citation mechanisms for data providers to ensure the accuracy and Fitness for Use (FFU) of the data provided. Georeferencing, taxonomy, field work, data quality assurance are some of the “weaknesses” according to a simplified SWOT analysis and can easy be converted into “opportunities”. These could be opportunities of job creation and development for the people of the biodiversity rich African continent which still has so much biodiversity data to be collected, captured, analysed and stored.  

When all the courses are complete a comprehensive biodiversity informatics curriculum will be available online on the links:  http://biodiversity-informatics-training.org/bi-curriculum/ and https://www.facebook.com/groups/BiodiversityInformatics/ as an on-going resource.     

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