Databases – WebGIS LIFE+T.E.N.

In the research world, the issue of access to ‘basic data on biodiversity’ is fundamental: in average, scientists spend 80% of their time on gathering, organising and combining data from a lot of different databases, rather than concentrating on proper research. During this complicated task, it is easy to lose or miss out some data, spoiling years of efforts in biodiversity conservation.

The first attempt to provide useful tools to systematise and easily access a big amount of data has been carried out by the IBM, through the ‘relational model for database management’ by E. F. Codd in 1970: it organises data in tables which represent single entities (i.e. a phylogenetic tree or the tracking of an individual during time), with rows identified by a univocal code. The single entities are then connected on the basis of logic interactions (i.e. the phylogenetic tree is connected to the tracking of an individual of a species by means of its scientific name). From then on, the blooming of systematised data available online has led to the development of a new tool to organise this big amount of heterogeneous data: the RDF – Resource Description Framework. RDF is a protocol released by the World Wide Web Consortium in 2014 that aims at unifying all the available relational databases by using a standardised and comprehensible nomenclature.

Despite both the relational databases and the RDF are such useful tools, they are still largely underused. Fortunately, in the last years, some big institutional consortia have promoted these technologies through huge online portals such as the Atlas of Living Australia: thanks to the national coordination of universities and institutions, a nation has been able to both make biodiversity data available online and digitalise great collections guarded in dusty rooms of museums spread on the entire national territory.

These data represent an important source not only for researchers, but for citizens as well, who can explore the biodiversity of our planet on their laptop or directly participate in the creation of biodiversity databases (i.e. GBIF) by uploading their observations on dedicated portals (i.e. iNaturalist).

In this context, our contribution involves the Action A1 of the LIFE+T.E.N. project, which has ended with the creation of the first provincial database on faunal and floral biodiversity, thanks to the fundamental contribution of all the research institutions, parks and Reti di Riserve in Trentino. This database is constantly updated with data coming from monitoring programmes and other researches.

This initiative has been expanded in the BioSTREAM project (BIO System form Transmission and Retrieval of Environmental Attributes and Metadata), a supraregional effort led by Trentino, Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia, aiming at sharing different biodiversity databases.

This project consists of four phases (the first two already concluded):

  1. elaboration of an action plan that provides guidelines for any organization wishing to participate;
  2. training to provide the organizations with competences on how to manipulate the datasets;
  3. construction of a database able to gather both observations coming from the organizations and those already available online – WebGIS;
  4. construction of a portal for consulting the databases.

There is still a lot of work to do, but surely we are on the right track for a better understanding and conservation of our biodiversity.