Data ‘ignorance mapping’ entry wins 2016 Ebbe Nielsen Challenge

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Ignorance of GBIF data on European Amphibians summarized per ecoregion - image from submission

Ignorance of GBIF data on European Amphibians summarized per ecoregion - image from submission

Method developed by Swedish-based data scientist seeks to calculate “Where and when is data enough?”

Alejandro Ruete, an Argentinian conservation biologist and population ecologist, has won first prize in the 2016 GBIF Ebbe Nielsen Challenge for his approach to measuring and comparing the spatial and temporal gaps in biodiversity data. Ruete is currently a post-doc researcher at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala.

His entry, Exploring ignorance in space and time, earned the top prize of €20,000 upon its selection by an expert jury who reviewed 16 submissions to this year’s Challenge. The incentive prize honours the legacy of Ebbe Nielsen, a Danish entomologist, systematician and principal founder of GBIF, who died unexpectedly en route to the inaugural governing board session in 2001.

“I’m very honoured to be the winner of the 2016 Ebbe Nielsen Challenge, and I thank GBIF for organizing the competition,” said Ruete. “I’m very glad to see my algorithms get used—that is my tiny grain of sand to preserve Nature. I’m especially thankful to my family, because it was mainly on their time that I created this work.”

As part of his submission, Ruete developed two web applications that demonstrate the use of the algorithms. One app, SLWapp, compares the ignorance calculated for seven species groups in Sweden, and the other, GBIFapp, explores ignorance in space and time for amphibians in Europe.

“What made the winning entry so attractive was its simplicity and scalability. It makes few assumptions, and unlike some other entries it only requires simple occurrence data,” said Roderic Page, a University of Glasgow professor and chair of both the Challenge jury and the GBIF Science Committee. “This means the tool can be applied to any geographic region or taxonomic group in the GBIF network.”

Two submissions will share the second-place honours, with each entry receiving prizes of €4,000 each:

  • sampbias, developed by Alexander Zizka, Alexandre Antonelli and Daniele Silvestro—three researchers also based in Sweden, at the University of Gothenburg
  • GBIF Coverage Assessment Tools, created by Walter Jetz, Jeremy Malczyk, Carsten Meyer, Michelle Duong, Ajay Ranipeta and Luis J. Villanueva—an international team working in United States, South Africa and Germany

Three more entries earned honourable mention along with €1,000 each in the competition: