CSIRO’s Tony Rees named 2014 Ebbe Nielsen Prize winner

GBIF has awarded its prestigious Ebbe Nielsen Prize for 2014 to Tony Rees, whose groundbreaking informatics tools have significantly advanced the delivery of data about life on Earth.

GBIF has awarded its prestigious Ebbe Nielsen Prize for 2014 to Tony Rees, whose groundbreaking informatics tools have significantly advanced the delivery of data about life on Earth.

Rees is manager of the marine research data centre at Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). He will receive the €30,000 Ebbe Nielsen Prize at GBIF’s 21st Governing Board Meeting (GB21), which takes place this year in New Delhi, India, from 16-18 September.

The GBIF Science Committee awards the annual prize to researchers combining biosystematics and biodiversity informatics research in an exciting and novel way.

GBIF’s Australian delegation nominated Rees in recognition of four innovative achievements that have advanced global progress in biodiversity informatics:

  • Developing the ‘c-squares’ spatial index and mapping system, which enables data relating to any position on the Earth’s surface to be expressed in simple, text-based format as a kind of ‘global postcode’. This enables rapid search, retrieval and mapping of georeferenced data such as the results of biodiversity surveys or aggregated species occurrence data.

  • A redesign of the Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS), introducing centralized taxonomic indexing, spatial indexing and rapid online mapping for the first time. Rees is manager of the Australian node of OBIS.

  • Designing and constructing the ‘Taxamatch’ software which detects and corrects wrong or variant spellings of taxonomic names. This tool has been installed in several global biodiversity data systems.

  • Conceiving and implementing the Interim Register of Marine and Nonmarine Genera (IRMNG), initially developed as an information backbone for the Census of Marine Life and OBIS project. It is now a significant data source for a number of systems including GBIF, for which it forms part of the taxonomic backbone that helps to organize species information published through the network.

In the citation for Tony Rees as recipient of the 2014 Ebbe Nielsen Prize, the GBIF Executive Secretary Donald Hobern says the Science Committee recognizes his groundbreaking research achievements in the development of informatics tools for biodiversity.

“Your work in multiple areas of biodiversity informatics has contributed significantly to advances in the delivery of marine data, particularly through OBIS, and contributed fundamental tools for wider use by the global community,” Hobern writes.

“IRMNG in particular has been a tool of enormous importance to GBIF and others in supplying much of the detail for a global taxonomic classification of all life and as high-value taxon trait data in a form which can readily be reused in data validation and to enhance species pages.”

Hobern and the Science Committee also welcomed the plan by Tony Rees to use the prize money to develop the content and functionality of the IRMNG.

Rees said he was delighted to receive the award, adding: “I am particularly pleased that my work has made a difference to a variety of global and overseas projects as well as those within Australia and my own agency, and to have had the opportunity to work with a wide range of enthusiastic and inspirational collaborators both in Australia and overseas.

“I have already indicated to GBIF that my intention is to use this award to further the ongoing development of my IRMNG database of ‘all’ taxonomic names for the benefit of multiple projects and public users, including but not limited to GBIF, OBIS, the Atlas of Living Australia and Encyclopedia of Life projects and others, and also foster closer physical collaboration via co-location with data hosting for the WoRMS (World Register of Marine Species) and PESI (Pan-European Species-directories Infrastructure) biodiversity informatics projects in the future.”

“This prize is a fitting recognition of Tony and his already substantial contributions to the field of biodiversity informatics.  The proposed enhancements to the IRMNG will be further examples of the benefits Tony has provided to biodiversity initiatives at the global level”, said John La Salle, Director of the Atlas of Living Australia and head of the Australian delegation to GBIF.

Ward Appeltans, OBIS manager at UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, said he was glad Rees’ life work, dedication and perseverance were rewarded by this prestigious prize. “Tony Rees has successfully combined two of his passions, informatics and biology, and with the right intuition and knowledge he has built solutions that have been used by thousands of scientists all over the world.”

GBIF established the Ebbe Nielsen Prize in honour of the late Ebbe Nielsen, a Danish/Australian entomologist who was among the inspiring founders of GBIF but tragically died just before it came to fruition in 2001.

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