A banana farmer in Malebennur, Karnataka wakes up every morning and reaches for the point-and-shoot-camera he bought, first thing, before stuffing it in his pocket and setting out for work. Over the course of the day as he goes about his chores, he documents the species around him and uploads it on the India Biodiversity Portal (IBP) by dusk. Over the years he has densely documented the biodiversity of a 10 square kilometre area around his home and become a self-taught expert in moth identification.
A businessman with a keen interest in insect macro photography happened to come across a particularly colourful spider and uploaded it to the IBP. The unusual observation caught the attention of a young spider researcher and a user on the portal. A collaborative effort ensued resulting in the collection of a specimen, verification and publication of a paper on a new report of the Genus Siler from India.
In 2019 the Biodiversity Management Committee of a remote village set in Ukhrul district, Manipur took up the unconventional route of using IBP to upload and curate species to build a dynamic and perpetual biodiversity register of the village. Today they have documented and identified more than 700 species through the portal.
A sound engineer in Kerala who travels extensively across the country has been using IBP since its inception to document his observations across his many journeys. A look at his profile today reveals a trail across the country covering over 16 states and a rich life-list of over 3,000 species documented over an astounding 10,000 observations.
These are just some of our citizen scientists users who contribute to building big data on the biodiversity of India. There are thousands of others who contribute observations from distributed locales to the “long tail of information” of over 1.6 million observations on the Observation module of the IBP. Such citizen observations are today the most proliferate biodiversity data in the world, constituting over 80 percent of 1.7 billion observation records in global databases in biodiversity of which ironically, India.has only 1 percent occurrence records, despite having 8 percent of global biodiversity.
While occurrence records that help generate the spatial and temporal distributions of species is one aspect of biodiversity information; its taxonomy, habit, habitat, biology, conservation status and uses along with multimedia are other important components of biodiversity data. These have to be contributed by experts as validated open data and help in the mainstreaming of biodiversity science in India. We built a species module on the Portal as a collaborative space among experts to help curate crowdsourced data and develop one informative page with multimedia for every species in India . Currently we have aggregated information on about 58,000 species out of about 130,000 known to science. There are new species being discovered every year and the estimated number of species in India is set to about 800,000.
Finally, an integrated and holistic biodiversity information system should have spatial information on the main drivers of biodiversity; climate, solis, topography, and the human landscapes and artifacts. We embarked on the task of digitising thematic maps that had been generated previously but were inaccessible in the public domain and deploying them on a public platform in reusable formats with advice on copyright issues from the Alternate Law Forum. The maps were deployed under the Creative Commons licenses with due attribution when the portal was launched as a webGIS map module with over 100 map layers in December 2008. Currently we have over 200 map layers on IBP available for download. We expect the recent announcement of the Final Approved Guidelines for Geospatial Data will give a much needed boost to liberating and opening out geospatial data which is vital for land management and biodiversity conservation.
In our conversations over the years with the scientific community on collaborating and contributing open data on species we have been questioned on the value of generating large scale occurrence data; the benefit and risks of sharing biodiversity information in the public domain; and finally the authenticity and validity of citizen and amateur generated data. However the scientific community has been an active user of the big data on the portal with over 300 citations in peer reviewed journals.
The Integrated India Biodiversity Portal has embarked on an ambitious task of documenting every species of India, with its distribution and biology and it is now bearing fruit. This is a large scale participative and collaborative effort among its citizens, experts and the state. The code base is open source and powers multiple portals like the Bhutan Biodiversity Portal and portal for tropical weeds . We are developing a portal for Madagascar’s Protected Areas and Mikoko , a portal for the mangroves of Kenya, helping aggregate big data in biodiversity in areas of the world.
R Prabhakar has been involved in building the India Biodiversity Portal since its inception in 2009. He has been involved in the area of biodiversity informatics and has been a member of the global Taxonomic Database Working Group (TDWG) evolving biodiversity information standards. He is an archivist with a deep interest in open data and open science and works at Strand Life Sciences and Metastring Foundation .
Thomas Vattakaven has been working in the India Biodiversity Portal since 2012 and is interested in biodiversity, biodiversity informatics and platforms, crowdsourcing data and engaging in citizen science for open data. He is also a National Geographic Explorer.