Award winner aims to increase data quality and interoperability through linked open data and the Semantic Web

Marcos Zárate, doctoral fellow of CONICET, becomes the first Argentinian to win a GBIF Young Researchers Award since 2012

Marcos Zarate
Marcos Zárate, doctoral fellow at CONICET, is the first Argentinian to win a GBIF Young Researchers Award since 2012

Marcos Daniel Zárate, a PhD candidate from the Universidad Nacional del Sur (UNS) hosted at Center for the Study of Marine Systems at the National Patagonian Sci-Tech Centre (CCT CENPAT-CONICET), has been named as one of two winners of GBIF’s 2019 Young Researchers Award.

Zárate is the first Argentinian to win the award since Salvador Arias earned the honour in 2012. He also serves as an assistant professor at the Universidad Nacional de la Patagonia San Juan Bosco.

Zárate’s research explores the use of Semantic Web technologies and linked open data to improve data quality and interoperability. By creating a data-rich framework for establishing and exploiting interrelationships between datasets and applications, the Semantic Web that make it easier for both humans and machines to reuse and query data using shared applications, vocabularies and ontologies across community boundaries.

With its emphasis on improving data quality and integrating heterogenous information, the investigations Zárate is pursuing align well with current interests across the GBIF network. In the coming year, he will work with GBIF Argentina to prototype semantic techniques for detecting and correcting of geospatial issues in GBIF-mediated marine data from the South Atlantic.

“Promoting the use of ontologies and the Semantic Web as a tool for scientists is crucial for generating new approaches to biodiversity informatics,” says Zárate.

“I hope that Marcos’s research can lead to wider integration between cross-disciplinary projects and across different content and systems," said Mirtha Lewis, principal investigator at CENPAT-CONICET, Zárate’s thesis advisor and node manager for OBIS Argentina (ArOBIS).

After converting data from the GBIF network to the Resource Description Framework, or RDF—a key format for linked open data—Zárate will look to implement automated quality controls and integrate GBIF-mediated data with a wider range of content, services and systems.

External resources like Linked GeoData, GeoNames and GeoSPARQL make it possible both to check and to improve the geographic accuracy and consistency of occurrences with inadequate locality information. Embedded within a semantic framework, the converted data could lead to greater integration between cross-domain research that extends across different content and systems.

With GBIF already increasing its integration of occurrence data, data reuse and citation, taxonomic treatments, published research, and information on individual researchers, observers, collectors and identifiers, Zárate’s research may also suggest ways of linking more ontology- and vocabulary-driven aspects currently hidden within the data, including food webs, economic use, traditional medicines and invasive species.

“Marcos has been working since 2015 to develop methodologies to publish scientific data in interoperable formats, and he combines knowledge of programming and databases with an open mind ready to solve scientists’ problems,” said Pablo Fillottrani, professor of computer science and engineering at UNS.

“By improving quality controls in the data life cycle, Marcos’s interdisciplinary research combines information technologies and biology to improve our knowledge and understanding of the data,” said Renato Mazzanti, coordinator of the information management unit at CCT CENPAT-CONICET.

The award jury, led by GBIF science committee vice chair Anders G. Finstad of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), highlighted GBIF and Zárate’s common goal of linking heterogenous data, calling the study “theoretically well-developed” and “likely to have long-tail impact in the research community.”

The GBIF Science Committee selected Zárate and Nicky Nicolson, a PhD candidate from the United Kingdom, from a pool of 11 candidates nominated by heads of delegation from seven GBIF Participant countries, including Argentina, whose delegation nominated Zárate for the award. Zárate and Nicolson will each receive a €5,000 award and recognition at the 26th GBIF Governing Board in Leiden, the Netherlands, in October 2019.

About CCT CENPAT-CONICET

The National Patagonian Center of the National Scientific and Technical Research Council is a multidisciplinary center for scientific and technological research, dependent on CONICET and a reference in Argentine Patagonia. covers the biology and management of aquatic and terrestrial resources, oceanography and meteorology, social sciences, geology, paleontology, and studies of diversity, systematics and evolution. CCT CENPAT-CONICET, its acronym, derives from its Spanish name, el Centro Nacional Patagónico, Centro Científico Tecnológico del Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas. Learn more at https://cenpat.conicet.gov.ar.

About Universidad Nacional del Sur

The National University of the South (UNS) has a long history in the training of highly trained human resources to solve problems that require the production and use of software systems, integrate multidisciplinary work teams for research, development and technology transfer. Learn more at http://www.uns.edu.ar/ingles

About Universidad Nacional de la Patagonia San Juan Bosco

The Faculty of Engineering of at the National University of Patagonia San Juan Bosco (UNPSJB Puerto Madryn) performs research, development, linking services and training of human resources in computer science. Currently, projects related to Collaborative Systems, Space-Time Systems, Big Data Analysis, Smart Cities and Semantic Web are being developed. Learn More at http://www.madryn.unp.edu.ar/

About the Center for the Study of Marine Systems

The Center for the Study of Marine Systems (CESIMAR) (for its acronym in Spanish, Centro Para el Estudio de Sistemas Marinos). Its mission is to develop research lines and train human resources aimed at understanding the functioning of marine ecosystems, and provide scientific and technological support for the management and conservation of sea resources.Learn more at https://cenpat.conicet.gov.ar/cesimar

About GBIF Argentina

The node for GBIF Argentinia is hosted by two national institutions, the Museum of Natural Sciences “Bernardino Rivadavia” (MACN-CONICET) and the National Biological Data System (SNDB—in Spanish, la Sistema Nacional de Datos Biológicos). Its goals are to promote the interchange of biodiversity data; increase the accessibility, projection and quality of biodiversity data by using virtual networks; strengthen the use of best practices for conservation and management of biological collections; and offer biodiversity data outreach products and training programs. Learn more at https://datos.sndb.mincyt.gob.ar

About the Argentine Museum of Natural Sciences

The Argentine Museum of Natural Sciences, MACN-CONICET (from the Spanish, Museo Argentino de Ciencias Naturales “Bernardino Rivadavia”, Instituto del Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas), is a unique area for history and heritage. MACN-CONICET integrates research, conservation, exhibition, and education so that the whole community can discover, understand, value and enjoy nature (which includes man), its processes and diversity, with emphasis on the Argentine territory. Learn more at http://www.macnconicet.gob.ar

2019 Young Researchers Award Jury

  • Anders G. Finstad* (chair): Norwegian University of Science and Technology
  • Jurate De Prins*: Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences
  • Gregory Riccardi*: Florida State University
  • Philippe Grandcolas*: Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique | Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle
  • Emma Patricia Gomez Ruiz: Facultad de Ciencias Biológicas, Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León
  • Erlend Nilsen: Norwegian Institute for Nature Research

* denotes GBIF Science Committee member