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Biodiversity meets social networks in new macroscopic observatory

Claudia Gabarain's picture

A promising web find that should catch the attention of our resident biodiversity expert, Tony, if it hasn't already: scientists from around the world are gathering this week in London for the e-Biosphere Conference, where they'll present and discuss a project to create a "macroscopic observatory" of biodiversity that will combine social networks in internet and contributions by their users.

James Edwards, executive director of the Encyclopedia of Life at the Smithsonian Institution and conference organizer, explains the system will be free of charge and open to all. Any user will be able to access a satellite image through the web and get detailed information on every species in it, from the trees to the insects in that ecosystem or data on the DNA of the microbes living in those insects. Or anyone could look up an insect from his garden, identify it and get information on its origin and potential damage. Also, users will be able to contribute their own observations to create a huge world database that would help understand the environmental changes in different areas of the globe.

According to the organizers, many of the components of the observatory are already up and running, so it's just a matter of getting the systems connected to start seeing some results. A couple of these components are ARKive, a database of photos and videos, and Aquamaps, a marine biodiversity map system.

To a laywoman on this topic like me, the project seems both daunting in its scope and extremely accessible to the common user on the other hand. Most of us know so little about the environment that we live in, yet what's there to learn is almost unending... The organizers of the conference talk about this as a "democratization of biodiversity information" and that sounds just about right.

Hat tip to EFE through El Mundo.