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June 23rd, 2012
A New Vision for Harnessing Data About Life on Earth

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Experts from around the world are preparing to address the urgent need to improve understanding of the complexities and patterns of global biodiversity. The Global Biodiversity Informatics Conference (GBIC) will convene 100 leading specialists in biodiversity science, informatics, conservation and policy in Copenhagen, Denmark from 2-4 July.

They will help build the foundations of a new strategy and roadmap to make best use of the growing suite of tools to record and connect data about the living world, providing scientific support for measures to tackle the crisis of biodiversity loss.

Donald Hobern, executive secretary of GBIF, organizers and co-hosts of the conference, launched a vision statement for the event as world leaders approached the climax of their talks in Rio de Janeiro to chart a more sustainable development path for the world.

“In effect, GBIF and its partners are seeking to develop a vision for a 21st-century informatics-based biodiversity science,” Hobern observed in a statement addressed to GBIF’s participant countries and organizations.

“Our knowledge of the natural world and its complexity continues to grow at a staggering rate. We are starting to understand more and more of the mind-bending intricacy of DNA-based life and how the various products of evolution interact to create even more levels of this complex system,” Hobern continued.

Hobern highlighted the increasing number of tools now available to assist us with measuring, recording and observing biodiversity, including:

  • Rapid gene sequencing technologies;
  • A wealth of imaging and remote sensing systems;
  • Physical and chemical sensors of all kinds;
  • Global-positioning tools;
  • The information backbone and processing power of the web and modern high-performance computing;
  • A global workforce of biologists with greater understanding of evolutionary processes than ever before; and
  • An army of amateur observers and potential contributors to our understanding.

“We also have increasing political recognition of the importance of our understanding this system and applying that understanding to support a sustainable future for mankind, the planet and all the other species around us,” Hobern added.
 
“The first task for GBIC is therefore to consider the virtual tool-box of instruments that are already at our disposal or just around the corner for observing, measuring and characterizing biodiversity. What tools could we use to build a comprehensive observing/recording network for biodiversity in the next decade?
 
“The next task for GBIC will be to understand what we may be able to achieve with these tools at our disposal. Combining different classes of data – provided these data are sufficiently comprehensive and reliable – may allow us to attack the problems that interest us in completely novel ways.

“Recognizing what may be possible will help to identify the most important areas for investment and for closer collaboration between national, regional and global initiatives. The attendees at GBIC are being brought together to stimulate thinking on these possibilities,” Hobern concluded.

The conference will begin with keynote addresses on the frontiers of biodiversity science and informatics, as well as the policy and research context. The participants will then divide into three parallel workshop groups to pool expertise and identify new opportunities for addressing critical gaps in knowledge about biodiversity, using the latest informatics capabilities and data networks. In addition, the workshops will consider how informatics can better address the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, agreed by governments in 2010 as part of a ten-year strategy to save biodiversity and enhance its benefits for people.

The major output of the conference will be a Global Biodiversity Informatics Outlook (GBIO), aiming to set out priorities for the next 5-10 years in order to guide funding agencies and broaden the evidence base for policies to conserve and sustainably use biodiversity.

Development of the Outlook document will be led by the 12 co-chairs of the GBIC workshops, with an opportunity for the wider biodiversity science and data community to comment on early drafts.
 
The final GBIO document is expected to be a major focus of the e-Biosphere 2013 conference taking place in London in March next year. e-Biosphere 2013 aims to address the different dimensions of biological diversity studied by researchers, such as genes, species and communities, and to explore a new multi-dimensional approach to biodiversity data and their use.

GBIC is hosted by GBIF and the University of Copenhagen, and organized in conjunction with CReATIVE-B (Lifewatch), the Encyclopedia of Life, the Consortium for the Barcode of Life and the Natural History Museum, London.   

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