By agreeing to help coordinate and promote free and open access to biodiversity data, Armenia has become GBIF's 99th formal member, its 61st national participant and the easternmost constituent of the GBIF Europe and Central Asia region.
Armenia is the second country to become a GBIF Participant after taking part in the Norwegian-funded BioDATA project, implemented nationally by International Research Programme Coordinating Unit of the Armenian National Agrarian University (ANAU). This result provides evidence of the value of engaging biodiversity professionals through regional training events, alongside the examples of Belarus and the 11 new members that entered through the European Union-funded Biodiversity Information for Development (BID) programme.
"Participation in GBIF provides a framework for developing the national-scale data and information we need to assess, monitor and manage Armenia's biodiversity effectively," said Dr. Armine Abrahamyan, head of ANAU's International Research Programme Coordinating Unit. "The training available through the community's capacity enhancement programmes is equally important, helping us to achieve a national target for improving the skills of our scientists and data specialists."
"By joining the GBIF community, Armenia has become a pioneer in the region, and we hope its example will soon be followed by other nations in the Caucasus and Central Asia," said Joe Miller, GBIF Executive Secretary. "Armenia's importance as the cradle of some of the most important crops in the world makes this a particularly exciting development. The biodiversity data mobilized through membership in GBIF offers valuable support for the global community’s goals and targets for conservation and sustainable development."
Armenia lies at a historic crossroads of both cultural and natural diversity. Spanning two globally important biodiversity hotspots—the Caucasus and the Irano-Anatolian—the country's mountains and valleys host high numbers of endemic species, despite its relatively small area (29,743 km2 | 11,484 sq. miles). The latest National Biodiversity Action Plan submitted to the Convention on Biological Diversity notes the presence of 142 plant and 495 animal species that occur in no other country in the world.
Armenia remains an important source of regional agricultural diversity, as it is home to hundreds of species of crop wild relatives, including three of the world's four species of wild wheat: wild einkorn (Triticum boeticum)), red wild einkorn (T. urartu) and Timopheev's wheat (T. araraticum). These genetic riches provide a vital resource for cultivating new, more resilient plant varieties capable of increasing agricultural production and food security.
Armenia's long human history means, unsurprisingly, that its mountain, forest, steppe, semi-desert and freshwater habitats face the full range of anthropogenic threats, such as loss of habitat from human settlement and resource exploitation, pollution, invasive species and climate change. As a result, the number of species listed as imperiled in the national Red Book of endangered species surpasses the 120 species on the IUCN Global Red List of Species.
Upcoming events in Armenia aim to increase capacity and awareness of open biodiversity data, with a training course on data publishing and a regional symposium for the South Caucasus (both postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic) planned in the coming year.