28 Feb 2019 Story Ecosystems

Megadiverse Brazil: giving biodiversity an online boost

Photo by José Sabino

Brazil is at the top among the 18 megadiverse countries. It hosts between 15 and 20 per cent of the world’s biological diversity, with more than 120,000 species of invertebrates, about 9,000 vertebrates and more than 4,000 plant species. With this comes huge potential to boost economic growth and social inclusion, but also a huge responsibility.

The sustainable use of natural assets is critical to Brazil’s present and future generations. But to do so while monitoring biodiversity loss and conservation efforts, it is crucial to understand the nation’s resources first. With an average of 700 new animal species discovered every year in Brazil, storing all the information in a useable manner is an enormous challenge, especially considering the vast size of the country and the number of different institutions engaged in biodiversity research.

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Photo by José Sabino

“When the information is spread around different institutions, one is less able to find it, judge the quality of the data and understand how it can be used. Besides, the time needed to compile the data can make its use inefficient, as is the case in public policies,” explains Andrea Nunes, general coordinator of biomes of the Brazilian Ministry of Science, Technology, Innovations and Communications and national director of the Brazilian Biodiversity Information System project

Nunes highlights, as an example, the case of the map of priority areas for conservation, sustainable use and benefit-sharing of biodiversity, a public policy tool to support participatory decision-making processes, such as the creation of protected areas: “The development of this map can take two years, so it is only updated every four or five years, which is a lot of time when we think in terms of territory dynamics and land use changes.”

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Infographics by The Brazilian Biodiversity Information System

But with support from UN Environment and the Global Environment Facility, an initiative of Brazil’s Ministry of Science, Technology, Innovation and Communications has been working to change this scenario, creating Brazil’s most comprehensive resource on national biodiversity.

The Brazilian Biodiversity Information System currently brings together data and information from over 230 institutions, from universities to research centers, museums, state agencies, botanic gardens and zoos. Operational since November 2014, the system aims to support science, public policy and decision-making related to environmental conservation and the sustainable use of natural resources. This is achieved by encouraging and facilitating digitalization and online publication, integrating openly accessible data and information on Brazilian biodiversity.

For researchers, the system is an invaluable asset. For example, a scientist researching an endangered species—like the maned wolf—can now find comprehensive information on the species, as well as  publicizing his or her own work to a wider audience of fellow researchers worldwide. But the system has other practical uses as well. Farmers can use the platform to help calculate environmental compensation credits, or to decide which species to prioritise in restoration efforts—such as endangered flora, or plants that provide shelter and food for threatened wildlife species in the region. Finally, any user can contribute to the system by uploading photographs, documentation and information on biodiversity through the Citizen Science programme.

“The implementation of the Brazilian Biodiversity Information System is an important step towards the dissemination of biological data in the country, both for academic research and environmental management,” Denise Hamú, UN Environment Representative in Brazil says. “We are convinced that the system is increasingly relevant for broadening knowledge on Brazilian biodiversity and nature conservation.”

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Photo by José Sabino

The system’s database already has more than 15 million records on the occurrence of Brazilian species that have been published by the main Brazilian research institutions, such as the National Institute for Amazon Research, the Rio de Janeiro Botanical Garden and the Zoology Museum of São Paulo University, in addition to data obtained in partnerships with herbaria in Europe and in the United States. Part of this information has supported the creation of a tool called Biodiversity and Nutrition, that provides a database on the nutritional composition of native Brazilan species and related recipe ingredients.

In November 2018, the Brazilian Biodiversity Information System was converted from a Global Environment Facility project to a database of the Brazilian Government, making it the official reference for the Brazilian National Report to the Convention on Biological Diversity and for measuring the achievements of Aichi Biodiversity Target 11.

The Brazilian Biodiversity Information System also serves as the national node to the Global Biodiversity Information Facility, an international network and research infrastructure that provides free and open access to biodiversity data from more than 1,300 institutions worldwide. In publishing their data in the Brazilian Biodiversity Information System, researchers also decide whether the data should be made available on the global network.

In the coming months, the system will continue to expand its database, complete the migration to a new platform, improve the way it uses data and strengthen the new governance established last year by law.

For more information on the Brazilian Biodiversity Information System, please contact Flora Pereira or Anna Fanzeres.