Belarus extends GBIF’s European membership map eastward

Engagement in Norwegian-funded data-training project served to demonstrate and reinforce the value of formal national participation

schuutman-iNat-Aglais-urticae
Small tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae), Migdalovichy, Belarus, via iNaturalist Research-grade Observations. Photo 2018 schuutman CC BY-NC 4.0.

Belarus has joined GBIF as an associate participant under the authority of the country’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection and the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus (NASB). Their entrance expands the network in Europe to 21 country members, matching Africa as GBIF’s best-represented region.

Most of the landlocked nation is forested, with the pine, fir, and birch of the boreal forest (south taiga) dominating the country’s north, and broad-leaved stands of oak, elm, and white beech prevailing to the south. One of Europe’s largest and oldest forests, Bialowieza, straddles Belarus’s western border with Poland. The 2016–2020 National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan and Sixth National Report submitted by Belarus to the Convention on Biological Diversity note the presence of rare and endangered species, including 202 animals and 303 plants, many occuring within an extensive network of specially protected natural territories spanning 8 per cent of the country’s land mass.

Nationally, more than 27,000 species of mushrooms, protists, plants and animals have been recorded, and the network of the research institutions engaged in studying of biological diversity include extensive collections, the largest being the State Research and Production Association “Scientific and Practical Center of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus for Bioresources”.

“The Republic of Belarus has acknowledge the urgency of introducing modern information technologies into all areas of government and society,” said Oleg Borodin of NASB. “We look forward to the exchange of scientific and technical expertise in the GBIF network and, building on our own rich scientific heritage, hope to increase our capacity to integrate scientific knowledge into our national programmes and strategies.”

Belarus has taken the step of becoming a formal GBIF Participant while engaged in BioDATA, a two-year Norwegian project aimed at helping undergraduate and postgraduate students from Tajikistan, Belarus, Ukraine, and Armenia to develop skills in biodiversity data management and data publishing. Coordinated by the University of Oslo with support from the GBIF network, BioDATA is funded by the Norwegian Agency for International Cooperation and Quality Enhancement in Higher Education (DIKU).

“Belarus’ admission as a formal member of GBIF demonstrates the benefit of regional biodiversity funding activities,” said Joe Miller, executive secretary of GBIF. “The Norwegian-led training provided through BioDATA engaged the GBIF network, sparking interest in Belarusian data generation and use, which then convinced the government of the value of joining the GBIF community.”

Belarus has been serving as an emerging hub for data skills exchange, hosting the BioDATA train-the-trainers event, in Minsk in February 2019 as well as, coincidentally, the next BioDATA training event, which will take place in the country this November (location TBD). At the latter, experts from the University of Oslo, GBIF Norway and mentors trained earlier in project will lead 16 to 20 higher education students from Belarus through a five-day agenda aimed at building capacity among the next generation’s users and publishers of biodiversity data.

Numerous other shared connections between Belarus and the GBIF network provide additional opportunities for collaboration. NASB hosts the national node for the International Barcode of Life in its Scientific & Practical Center for Bioresources. The same center also lent its expertise in developing a national list of the Global Register of Introduced and Invasive Species with the IUCN Invasive Species Specialist Group, enabling Belarus to put this evidence to work in addressing biosecurity and management concerns around the 884 listed exotic plant and animals. Finally, formal participation in GBIF may also help increase understanding and appreciation of the value of digitizing the hundreds of thousands of specimens contained in Belarus’s state and private natural history collections.