The loss and degradation of global biodiversity are vital concerns for humanity. Such loss constitutes a real threat to food security, quality of life, and ultimately human survival. Our forests, oceans and other major ecosystems are fundamental to the regulation of climate. Vast areas of agricultural landscape may become desert and whole ecosystems will disappear or be degraded by loss of species. Through population growth, urbanisation, and changing land use, some of the ecosystems richest in wild species will become fragmented or degraded beyond repair, leaving us with lost ecosystem services and lost species diversity. We are confident that species are already being lost but so far there is no comprehensive catalogue even of all species known to science. One of the biggest challenges posed to biodiversity scientists is therefore to complete that catalogue to allow planning and management to ameliorate the rate at which Earth’s species vanish. i4Life aims to consolidate lists of species among major global programmes to help complete a catalogue, to allow gap analysis in our knowledge and to facilitate communication among scientists and among all people with an interest in life on earth.
This project sits centrally in several areas: societal concerns for global biodiversity and the functionality of portals showing species diversity, and the provision of an electronic catalogue of organisms suitable for use in biodiversity informatics and the virtual laboratory for modelling that global biodiversity. The project addresses directly the ability of scientists to comprehend the scale of species diversity and to enumerate its components.
How will it help?
The i4Life project is to establish a virtual research community to enable the global communities to engage in a common programme enumerating the extent of life on earth. This includes both scientific and conceptual contributions, for example the contrast between the biota revealed by environmental metagenomics, and conventional morphological survey, and contributions such as detailed differentiation of subspecies and cryptic taxa discovered in the Barcoding or conservation communities. It builds on the common need of each organisation to access a list of the entire set of organisms on Earth.
Who is involved?
Partners to this proposal include the six major global programmes exploring the full extent of life on earth, a central conceptual scientific axis in human knowledge of global biodiversity. They will work to cover biodiversity, and build on the work of the 4D4Life Project that presently supports the internal ‘service ecosystem’ of the Species 2000 Catalogue of Life database networks.
- The Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) based in Copenhagen with its global distribution modelling
- EBI/INSDC, at the European Bioinformatics Institute
- EMBL Cambridge (with the ELIXIR ESFRI Infrastructure) with its global archive of molecular diversity
- The Barcode of Life programme with CBOL and ECBOL partners with its global DNA Barcode library for identification
- The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) with its global Species Survival Programme and conservation Red List
- The LifeWatch ESFRI Infrastructure with its remit for ecological and land-use information
- The Encyclopedia of Life (EoL) with its mash-up information and images portal
- Species 2000 Catalogue of Life (CoL) with its global species checklist and taxonomic hierarchy
What will it do?
For each of the international programmes the project will design, implement and test the necessary special pipelines, as well as contributing significantly to enhancement of the Catalogue of Life for all to use through the inflows from the partners. By providing access to a common species catalogue within each of the organisations, we expect to contribute a much needed level of knowledge integrity across the various scientific and community studies of the global biota.
What are the challenges?
Unlike the very many ‘ordinary’ users of the Catalogue of Life services, each of these major international programmes presents particular hurdles to Catalogue integration because a) they have already established their own architecture, standards and protocols, b) they have special requirements, and c) they have their own partial catalogues or contributions that need to be integrated with the Catalogue of Life in a two way flow.