Young Researchers Award winner to help advance development of biodiversity informatics in South Africa

Fatima Parker-Allie will seek to develop a curriculum, improve data quality for marine fishes, and model regional distribution of commercial fish species.

Fatima Parker-Allie, a PhD student from South Africa, is one of the two recipients of the GBIF Young Researchers’ Award for 2015.

Her work will seek to advance the field of biodiversity informatics in South Africa in three distinct and complementary areas:

  • The development of a national BSc (honours) curriculum for biodiversity informatics

  • Data quality improvements that make biodiversity data more fit for use in research applications

  • Distribution models of commercially important fish species in southern African waters under different climate scenarios

Parker is the node manager at SABIF, GBIF’s national node in South Africa, which is hosted at the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI). She is pursuing her PhD studies at the University of Western Cape (UWC), which in 2012 signed an agreement with SANBI to collaborate on the development of a ‘centre of excellence’ for biodiversity information management. Producing students who earn PhDs is seen as key in this effort to build capacity.

Describing her research, Parker said, “My project was conceptualized to work across the data value chain, so that better decision making can be supported through the use of data. It will involve the full ‘life cycle’ of data, from assessing the type and quality of biodiversity data resources, to improving their quality, to analysing and interpreting them.

“My project also supports the science-policy interface by addressing the impacts of climate change on range shifts of fish populations and the direct implications for fisheries, food security and biodiversity. It looks at the use of Marine Protected Areas as a climate change adaptation and mitigation measure for fish populations”, Parker added.

For the first strand of her work, Parker will tackle the lack of a coordinated research agenda in biodiversity informatics in South Africa. To achieve this, she will explore a conceptual framework and develop an extended Honours curriculum in biodiversity informatics. Parker indicates that this project also aligns with the Presidential Outcome #5 (of 12), a governmental delivery agreement and the Human Capital Development Strategy, focussed on developing skills and leadership positions in the scarce skills area of biodiversity informatics.

The other two streams of Parker’s work will focus on the quality and use of GBIF-mediated records of marine fish. Parker, in her proposal for the Young Researcher Award, explains that approximately 2.8 million fish data records are published for southern Africa. She plans to examine these data for accuracy and clarity, prior to developing workflows and guidelines to improve the publication of marine data.

Following the data quality analysis, Parker will use ecological niche modelling techniques to model current and future distributions of fish species under various climate scenarios. The analysis will also include assessing the impacts of climate change on fish species in marine protected areas and on selected commercial fish species that are an important source of food in South Africa.

Parker will complete her research with the guidance of Mark Gibbons a marine biogeography and taxonomic expert, and Townsend Peterson, who helped develop a biodiversity informatics curriculum for the University of Kansas and has worked extensively on training programmes in Africa.

Images: Left - South African coast. Photo by Terry & Brenda Martin. CC BY-NC 2.0. Right - Fatima Parker-Allie, winner of 2015 Young Researcher Award.