Project Management-Training-Outreach-Sustainability

The five PI’s comprise a balanced team with expertise in software development (Dyreson-USU, Brand-NAU), phylogenetics and spatial ecology (Pearse-USU), and coordinating large networks of biodiversity end users (Cobb-NAU, Barkworth-USU). Dyreson (Project Leader), and Brandt (NAU) will oversee the technical portion of project, including coordination of other programmers. Dyreson is a computer scientist and has experience in software engineering and databases. Cobb (ecologist) and Barkworth (taxonomist) will develop training material for the transition to Symbiota2 and coordinate with Pearse to implement informal and formal training linking Symbiota with biodiversity-related research and education. They will also coordinate with Dyreson and Brandt to implement tracking of training material usage that will allow us to assess the success of education materials. In addition to regular virtual meetings, we will have two in-person meeting in Logan in years 2 and 3 to assess progress and plan accordingly. We will fully support the transitioning from Symbiota to Symbiota2 and will work with other Symbiota development projects to ensure that our workflows do not conflict with theirs (e.g., Biotic Associations).

Management & Training

Project progress, community engagement, and training will be accomplished primarily through 1) the Symbiota GitHub site, 2) the Symbiota Working Group (SWG) [33][63] activities, and 3) the Symbiota website.

  1. The Symbiota GitHub Organization will continue to disseminate software developments. New repositories will be created within the organization for the products of this project, and each will serve as a coordination point for tracking developments, addressing software issues, and communication between developers. All programming standards and practices that we will adhere to in developing Symbiota2 will be documented here to assist new developers in getting up and running with contributing future developments.
  2. The Symbiota Working Group will continue to coordinate Symbiota users and foster connections with global aggregators and software-based projects. The SWG hosts monthly virtual meetings/webinars during the US academic year, which are recorded and posted on the iDigBio website. It also organizes outreach efforts at in-person meetings (e.g., Taxonomic Databases Working Group (TDWG), the Ecological Society of America, the Society for the Study of Evolution) and promotes increased use of Symbiota software. For example, Andy Miller (SWG co-Coordinator) is currently collaborating with GenBank and others to develop better genetic data linkages, and create fields to accommodate paleobiological data to be integrated with ePANNDA, an API for Enhancing Paleontological and Neontological Data Discovery [1]. Co-PI Cobb is coordinating with both GBIF and iDigBio to share data usage statistics so that collections can better assess use of their data from all data providers.
  3. The Symbiota website will provide information about how to transition from Symbiota to Symbiota2. As part of this process we will update and extend the supporting documentation for Symbiota as well as create content specific to the Symbiota2 upgrade. The Symbiota2 project will produce a full set of tutorials in a series of training modules covering all aspects of digitization workflows and tools. We will continue to rely on power users who are “Symbiota champions” and are willing to create additional supporting documentation. We will provide dedicated support to people that must operate offline while working in remote locations to ensure they have efficient workflows for data entry and syncing data once they are connected to the Internet.

Broader Impacts: Education/Outreach & Research

The primary aim of this proposal is to develop a data-sharing infrastructure that will support the next generation of biodiversity research. Understanding the distribution and drivers of biodiversity is vital if we are to maintain ecosystem function and human wellbeing [7][15][19]. Our outreach activities will build on the training modules (D.6) to increase understanding of biological diversity and its distribution, both spatial and temporal. This will enhance the intellectual underpinnings of the different tasks and tools in Symbiota2, suggesting how the tools can be used to engage with local biodiversity, and encourage exploration of the distribution of biodiversity in a region.

Integrating Data into Research: It is increasingly understood that biodiversity studies should not be limited to counts of species in a place, but must include study of variability in function, phylogenetic diversity, and phenology [53]. Symbiota2 is being designed to provide the tools that this next generation of biodiversity science requires. Our phenology and phylogeny plugins will be implemented in collaboration with active biodiversity researchers, ensuring that we develop tools and methods that support and nurture this emerging field.

Research guides: co-PI Pearse will supervise a graduate student who will produce ‘Research Guides’ for selected new facets of Symbiota2 (e.g., the phenology and phylogeny plugins) that facilitate new research questions in biodiversity research. These tutorials will not just showcase how to use Symbiota2’s features, but also how these features can drive question-driven research.

Informal Biodiversity Education: A principal target for our outreach activities will be the thousands of students and volunteers who assist in data capture. Currently, there is no concerted effort to link their efforts to an understanding of biodiversity or informatics concepts. We will provide resources for developing an understanding of basic concepts and links to other resources that offer more in-depth coverage of the topics involved (e.g., Biodiversity Informatics Training Curriculum [9]). Another important target is the professionals and citizen scientists whose interest focuses on a specific group and/or region. We shall increase engagement of these individuals by creating learning modules that will emphasize the value of digitization, particularly as it relates to biodiversity data. These will complement the training modules (see D.6); extending users ability to utilize research tools in Symbiota, including learning to recognize a select group of organisms, building a documented checklist, performing gap analysis to guide future inventories, and modeling species ranges and suitable habitat. All modules will include inquiry-based activities that reinforce concepts. There will be tutorials for using Symbiota2 in a scientific workflow and interacting with Symbiota2 data through a web service endpoint. Certification options will be built into the tutorials to aid individuals wishing to demonstrate their understanding of a topic.

K-12 Biodiversity Portal: Co-PI Cobb has initiated planning with university educators and teachers associated with the NSF funded Lepidoptera of North America project to create a biodiversity K-12 education portal with two versions, one targeted for high school and another for 6th graders. These will address Next Generation Science Standards [56] for each respective grade level in different areas of ecology and conservation biology. The integration of WordPress will be extremely valuable in integrating existing data on Symbiota portals, which require some degree of taxonomic expertise, into a single framework that will allow us to integrate non-science terminology into specific biodiversity modules [38]. We are developing three complementary learning modules that will use the Spatial Module and research tools described in this proposal to allow students to understand the different facets of biodiversity and how human activities impact it and ecosystem services.

Long-Term Sustainability

Current estimates suggest the US will not digitize all the specimens in its museums by 2050 [18], and with the advances in technology we will also be adding a large amount of high quality images and sounds into biodiversity portals. Thus, we need sustainable efforts to meet this demand in the production of biodiversity data and ways to integrate it with data on genetics, biotic associations, habitat, and climate. Symbiota2 will play a significant role in meeting this challenge. It will be sustainable for several reasons, it is 1) Currently one of the most used biodiversity management systems; 2) Supported by several federal agencies (NSF, BLM, NPS, DOD, USDA, pending NEH); 3) Open source software that is optimally structured for building networks of museums/herbaria with minimal dedicated support resources, and 4) Ideally suited to address the needs of the many data providers outside of the United States that currently do not have viable options.

Although Symbiota is primarily used in the United States, there are collections set up in 13 other countries and we have made progress in establishing collections outside the US, including Brazil and Russia (Andy Miller, co-PI Cobb) Pakistan, Somaliland, China and Japan (Barkworth, Cobb). If collections cannot afford the small cost of their own portal we have existing portals that anyone in the world can join [44][45], which will expand their access to support resources both within and outside the US (Figure 8).

Symbiota is funded through grants and contracts that primarily enable specific developments. Resources for portal management are usually covered as part of a curator’s responsibilities at their institution. Symbiota2 will also rely on such funding initially but it is designed to generate the information needed (e.g., data size, scope, and usage at multiple levels from platform to collection) to create a donor pool for basic support of its infrastructure.

We will work through the Symbiota Working Group to develop additional funding streams to fund basic support for development and management. We will  participate in TDWG and other relevant meetings to continue discussing  revenue streams. We will also continue to obtain consensus from the Symbiota community to adopt a strategy to consider a suite of revenue-streams to cover basic support for Symbiota development and management.