Bio-Dem wins 2021 GBIF Ebbe Nielsen Challenge

International team led by Alexander Zizka of iDiv creates web-based tool linking natural science and political science, while a pair of entries sharing second prize

Alexander Zizka of the German Center for Integrative Biodiversity Research Halle-Jena-Leipzig (iDiv) led the team responsible for Bio-Dem, the winning entry in the 2021 Ebbe Nielsen Challenge. Photo Stefan Bernhardt / iDiv.

Bio-Dem, an open-source web-app for exploring temporal and spatial relationships between the availability of biodiversity data and the dimensions of democracy, has earned selection as first prize in the 2021 GBIF Ebbe Nielsen Challenge.

The international team, led by Alexander Zizka of the German Center for Integrative Biodiversity Research Halle-Jena-Leipzig (iDiv), has deep roots in Sweden. Zizka first started work on Bio-Dem during a PostDoc at the University of Gothenburg, which currently hosts three Bio-Dem team members, with Johannes Klein linked to the Gothenburg Global Biodiversity Centre (GGBC), Oskar Rydén, PhD student at the Department of Political Science and Staffan Lindberg, founder of the Varieties of Democracy Institute. Daniel Edler extends the connections further north to Umeå University, while Alexandre Antonelli, now director of science at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, has retained his connection with GGBC as its founder and former director.

Two entries shared second prize in the 2021 challenge:

  • Locating KBAs, an automated R-based workflow developed by Colombian ecologist and geospatial data analyst Daniela Linero Triana that leverages GBIF-mediated data to identify potential Key Biodiversity Areas within user-defined territories by searching for sites where threatened, migratory and range-restricted species occur in significant numbers
  • plantR, an R-based application and workflow developed by a team led by Brazilian ecologist Renato A. Ferreira de Lima as a single open-source environment in which data managers, taxonomists and data users can curate and combine specimen records across multiple collections

The premise for the first-prize winner, Bio-Dem is that, while georeferenced species occurrence data has become essential to ecological and biodiversity research, its availability depends on non-biological factors, including the political setting at the time and place of collection. The tool combines biodiversity data available from the GBIF network, the Varieties of Democracy's multidimensional dataset on the complex values of democratic systems, and information on colonial history from the Issue Correlates of War Project. This unique combination of sources enables users to investigate geographic and temporal relationships between socio-political variables and species occurrence records and generate hypotheses about the taxa and geographies in which they're interested.

In Cambodia, Bio-Dem reveals how a period of political change and armed conflict between 1970 and 1992 relates to a decrease in biodiversity data available. Explore other visualizations

"We know relatively little about socio-political biases in relation to biodiversity data sampling, and Bio-Dem provides an easy way of visualizing the complex empirical relationships between given country’s history, socio-economic factors and political regimes and the availability of species occurrence records," said Zizka. "We hope the app can help teachers to communicate the caveats of biodiversity data, biodiversity scientists to examine socio-political sources of data gaps and biases, and social scientists to explore how political systems affect scientific data collection and biodiversity conservation."

This year's Ebbe Nielsen Challenge entry is neither the first for Zizka nor for Bio-Dem. In 2016, Zizka teamed with current BioDem colleague Antonelli and Daniele Silvestro (now at Switzerland's University of Fribourg) to share second prize for sampbias, a tool for visualizing geographic sampling biases in species distribution datasets. With Bio-Dem, Zizka and his colleagues sought to improve on a 2018 submission to the challenge by expanding the tool's functionality and adding data on colonial legacies to incorporate elements of the ongoing debate about decolonizing biogeography. Bio-Dem marks the third time that Antonelli has been a part of a challenge-winning entry, most recently as a member of the 2020 first-prize winner, ShinyBIOMOD, led by Ian Ondo of RBG Kew.

Zizka has been working as a postdoctoral researcher in iDiv’s Synthesis Centre (sDiv) since 2018. sDiv supports working group meetings where international scientists work together on scientific issues.

"Several proposals ran very close, and all the jury members agreed that Bio-Dem was a unique and interesting application of GBIF-mediated data," said Jurate de Prins of the Royal Belgian Society of Entomology (SRBE-KBVE), member of the GBIF Science Committee and jury chair of the 2021 challenge. "But in the end, its inclusion of social and historcial aspects of present-day societies in considering biodiversity data across space and time tipped the balance in Bio-Dem's selection as the winner."

The majority-female jury reviewed a pool of ten qualified submissions to select the three winners of the Challenge, an annual incentive prize that honours the memory of Dr Ebbe Schmidt Nielsen, a Danish-Australian entomologist and an inspirational leader in the fields of biosystematics and biodiversity informatics who was one of the principal founders of GBIF. The presence of Camila Plata and Sarah Schooler on the jury made it the first to unite representatives from two (of the many) namesake institutions of German naturalist and polymath Alexander von Humboldt.

For its selection as the top-prize winner, the Bio-Dem team will receive €12,000 from the annual prize pool of €20,000, while the second-prize winners will each receive €4,000 prizes.

2021 GBIF Ebbe Nielsen Challenge prize winners

First Prize

Bio-Dem: Biodiversity knowledge & democracy
This open-source web application allows users to explore potential links between socio-political indicators, colonial history and the collection and mobilization of biodiversity data across space and time. Occurrence records from GBIF are combined with a data from Varieties of Democracy database reflecting five high-level principles of democratic systems (elections, liberality, participation, deliberation and egalitarianism). Three interactive graphs enables Bio-Dem users to explore the multi-faceted and multi-directional relationship between the availability of species occurrence records and socio-political variables in a given country. video | GitHub

For further reading
Zizka A, Rydén O, Edler D et al. (2021) Bio-Dem, a tool to explore the relationship between biodiversity data availability and socio-political conditions in time and space. Journal of Biogeography. doi:10.1111/jbi.14256

Second Prize (1/2)

Locating KBAs: An automated workflow for identifying potential Key Biodiversity Areas
Rapid biodiversity loss has amplified the urgent need to identify and safeguard places around the world that contribute most to the persistence of species and their habitats. The Global Standard for the Identification of the Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) provides a rigorous approach for establishing these sites, but its initial comprehensive scoping analysis of spatial data on priority species requires considerable effort and can hinder local and national initiatives to locate the most important sites for biodiversity.

Locating KBAs offers an automated workflow that uses the R programming language and leverages species occurrence data from the GBIF network—as well information on threat categories, ranges, and migratory status from the IUCN Red List, KBA portal and Birdlife Data Zone—to identify potential KBAs in user-defined study areas. The workflow code provides data users, conservation organizations and other entities involved in biodiversity research and conservation planning with an efficient means of determining places where they can focus their efforts on applying the KBA standard’s criteria and developing proposals for formal designation. In this way, the workflow code aims to help users optimize the process of reviewing, updating, and locating new sites of global biodiversity significance in terrestrial, freshwater, and marine ecosystems. video | GitHub

Second Prize (2/2)

plantR: An R package for managing species records from biological collections

Accessing collections-based data from different online systems quickly highlights variation in how documentation, notation and nomenclature standards are applied or represented, and collections themselves may also have divergent information about any given record's completeness, resolution and status, particularly with duplicate specimens. plantR is an R-based application developed to help users download, standardize and validate information associated with species records, such as collection codes, collector and identifier names, locality, geographical coordinates, taxonomic nomenclature and species identifications.

plantR's comprehensive toolbox—developed entirely with free and open-source tools—enables users to manage records from single or multiple collections at any stage from data download to export, from curating collection data to conducting taxonomic reviews and syntheses to assessing data quality prior to analysis. video | GitHub

Jury for 2021 Ebbe Nielsen Challenge