Engaging academia to unlock access to biodiversity data in southern Africa

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Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden
Bird of paradise flower (Strelitzia reginae) taken at the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden, South Africa. Photo by Maheva Bagard Laursen licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

University-based researchers and students are custodians of a rich source of biodiversity data that is rarely made available openly. Researchers are often reluctant to make their raw data publically available and accessible for reuse, or are ignorant of the opportunities for, and advantages of, sharing data in the wider biological community. At the same time, students of biological sciences at university level are not adequately trained in data management, biodiversity data standards, and data publication. Unlocking the potential for both students and researchers to effectively contribute to sharing and publishing practices could provide a wealth of data in a region where biological information is limited.

This shortcoming will be addressed in this project by developing a data management and data publication short-course, tailored to university students and their lecturers within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region. The course will be shared with universities and colleges, both within and outside the GBIF network, to promote wider awareness of GBIF in the region. Offered in various formats, the course will consider the variation in internet connectivity and teaching styles at academic institutions in the region. As a trial, feedback and input from users will help to form material for an adapted online webinar series, digital training course and CD to share with other universities.

Project Progress

To understand the extent of the shortcoming of sharing and publishing data to GBIF, the project team began in September 2018 with a survey to look at data publishing to GBIF by academic institutions in the region. The results demonstrated this shortcoming, identifying that only 10 out of 100+ institutions had published any data to GBIF.

Work towards the development of the short-course to address and promote the sharing, publishing and reusing of data, began with the first course held at the University of eSwatini in October 2018. At the same time a departmental seminar about GBIF and data publishing was held, in which at least 40 staff members and students attended. The pre-seminar survey conducted, showed there was a positive willingness to share data, however people’s awareness of GBIF was low. The project will develop and adapt the materials used, based on these experiences and feedback provided, before rolling this out and making it available online.

For the remainder of the project, training is planned at three more universities in early 2019, with simultaneous departmental seminars being held for lecturers and other staff. The project also expects to launch the online course, in conjunction with a webinar based on the departmental seminar, first to the University of Zimbabwe and then to additional universities and data champions.

A second training course was held at the University of the Free State (UFS), Qwaqwa Campus, in April 2019. To ensure that the data collected are formatted correctly in DarwinCore from start, the course included a section on mobile data collection apps. This section of the course proved to be highly valued. The day before the course, a departmental seminar was held to inform staff and lecturers about GBIF and data publishing. At UFS the seminar was redundant, as it was the same people attending the course the day after who participated in the seminar.

The third two-day training course was held at the Malawi University of Science and Technology (MUST) in June 2019. The university was small and new, and therefore, due to the small amount of staff and students, the course was opened for attendance from other universities and research institutions across Malawi. The departmental seminar advertising for the training course was not held at MUST, as the same people attending the course would attend the seminar. The University of Lilongwe in Malawi requested to have the course run at their institutions as well, so a fourth training course was held in Namibia shortly after the third course was completed. This course got funding from the African Biodiversity Challange project that was run by SANBI in South Africa. The course is available online on the Endangered Wildlife Trust's e-learning platform, and it is also available as a recorded webinar that introduces GBIF and data sharing, particular to students and researchers.

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1 July 2018 - 31 May 2019
Project identifier
Funded by
Contact details

Dr. Lizanne Roxburgh, Coordinator and Trainer
Endangered Wildlife Trust
Building K2, Ardeer Road, Pinelands Office Park
Modderfontein 1609,
South Africa

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