Julen Torrens Baile wins 2021 GBIF Young Researchers Award

2nd winner from Spain and the University of Navarra earns selection for research into improving methods of modelling species distributions for invasive freshwater fish

Foto Rio
2021 Young Researchers Award winner Julen Torrens Baile, caught during a short break in electrofishing surveys of the Arga River in his hometown of Pamplona, Spain. Photo courtesy of Mr Torrens Baile.

Julen Torrens Baile, a Master's student in the School of Sciences at the University of Navarra, has been named one of two winners of the 2021 [Young Researchers Award] during the 28th meeting of the GBIF Governing Board.

An expert jury has selected Torrens Baile, who had been nominated by Spain's delegation to GBIF, for his efforts to develop protocols—along with an algorithm—for preprocessing occurrence data to improve its quality and then test them on species distribution models (SDM) for 12 species of freshwater fish considered invasive in the Iberian Peninsula.

One quarter of all threatened fauna inhabit freshwater ecosystems, and these economically and socially important environments face further threats from invasive alien species (IAS). Their natural position in the landscape and their modification by humans make them more susceptible to invasions at the same time that their complexity and fragmentation makes it more difficult to forecast and control the impact, spread and evolution of IAS. The rivers of the Iberian Peninsula offer particularly useful setting for testing the protocols' results, given the variety of climates they occupy and their increased vulnerability to climate change due to seasonal and spatial irregularities, intensive human use and the combination of increased temperatures and decreased precipitation.

The lack of abundant sampling-event data and the uncritical use of presence-only data can produce misleading results in SDMs, over- or underestimating the probability of invasive species colonizing any given location. Torrens Baile will seek to produce a temporal analysis of about 40,000 presence-only records from GBIF and the Iberian Society of Ichthyology (SIBIC) on his dozen target species. The development of a discrete-time Markov chain (DTMC) algorithm will enable him to estimate the probability that individual records reflect IAS colonization over time. By removing "false presences" and identifying "true absences", the processed records should improve modelled predictions of potential locations where invasive species may establish colonies. More accurate and realistic SDMs would be a welcome and useful outcome to apply in risk assessments, species prioritization, early detection and warning systems, eradication and restoration, and other IAS-related preventative measures.

"Thanks to large databases like those from GBIF and SIBIC, we can identify the sites in the Iberian Peninsula that have been sampled over time," said Torrens Baile. "The availability of such data allows us to apply temporal analyses and to identify the optimal and suboptimal areas for the species more efficiently, in order feed the SDMs with higher quality information."

"Julen's research highlights the importance of having long-term ecological data at local scales that allow us to assess population dynamics," said David Galicia, professor in the Faculty of Sciences at the University of Navarra. "Nowadays, the volume of information available is overwhelming, but when you place specific requirements on the data, such as repeated sampling over time, you recognize the continuing need to boost the digitization and data-sharing initiatives."

"The use of biodiversity data permits us to analyse temporal patterns and obtain information for better management of biological resources," said Rafael Miranda, professor in the Faculty of Sciences at the University of Navarra. "Julen's project applies the data to support the development of specific tools for managing invasive alien species."

"Julen's research proposal is unique in its emphasis on absence estimation and time serialization," said José J. Sanchez Serrano, professor at the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC: in Spanish, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas) and head of Spain's delegation to GBIF. "By providing a consistent approach for processing presence-only data and applying it to the complexities of invasive species, his work showcases the use and value of GBIF-mediated data in ecological research."

Torrens Baile is the second Spanish student to earn the jury's selection, following Nora Escribano—another native of Pamplona who attended the University of Navarra—who received the award in 2017.

Torrens Baile shares the 2021 award with Michael Belitz of the University of Florida in the United States, and both winners will receive a €5,000 prize.

About the Award

Since its inception in 2010, the annual GBIF Young Researchers Award has sought to promote and encourage innovation in biodiversity-related research using data shared through the GBIF network.

About the University of Navarra, School of Sciences

Since its foundation in 1958, the University of Navarra's School of Sciences has aimed to provide quality interdisciplinary training in the professional and human fields in one of the country's most experienced schools. For more information, visit the University of Navarra.

Jury for 2021 Young Researchers Award