Wildlife Conservation Society – REBIOMA (2013)
REBIOMA Madagascar Data Portal
Last Updated: August 17th, 2020
For original grant, click here.
REBIOMA is now widely recognized as the project that is putting Madagascar’s biodiversity on the map. Working with Taxonomy Review Board (TRB) experts and other specialists, REBIOMA has assembled marine and terrestrial taxonomic lists, and built the infrastructure needed to discover, review, and publish high quality biodiversity data on the online data portal.
At the outset of this project, the REBIOMA data portal products included the following: marine and terrestrial occurrence data labeled and sorted according to validity (taxonomic, geographic) and quality (“reliable” or “questionable” according to expert review); species distribution models created from high quality occurrence data, for different realms (terrestrial, marine) and scenarios (current distributions, future distributions with assumptions about habitat change and greenhouse gas emissions). These products and the data portal are increasingly being used as a repository for new data, and for scientific research to support conservation in Madagascar.
Over the course of this project, REBIOMA aimed to build on previous success by doubling the amount of data published, enhancing data access with a new user interface, and working with key partners to support major policy initiatives such as priority setting to support the creation of new protected areas, improved management tools for existing protected areas, and linking site‐based conservation to development of a national REDD+ (Reducing Emissions through Deforestation and forest Degradation) strategy for Madagascar.
Key Objectives and Activities
Objective 1: Increase the rate of high quality data publication
- Double the rate of data publication to 50,000 occurrence records per year.
- Quality review of at least 20% of new occurrence records collected per year, for a total of 20,000 records reviewed by 2015.
- Expand TRB membership by 30%.
Objective 2: Increase data access, utility, and impact
- Increase data accessibility through the development of a new user interface and implement tools to monitor data use.
- Continue capacity-building activities for staff and partners.
- Promote the utility of the data portal through strategic communication efforts.
Objective 3: Support national conservation priority initiatives in Madagascar
- Continue to work with the Government of Madagascar to support conservation planning for new protected areas, and develop tools to support species monitoring.
- Work with partners implementing national REDD+ to identify biodiversity data needs, and implement portal and modeling tools to support those needs.
- Continue to work with data providers (20 existing data sources)—while also uncovering new sources (15 new data sources)—and work closely with TRB members (10 new members added) to ensure timely data review (5,000 records reviewed quarterly).
- Explore methods for speeding up the review process. REBIOMA will work with the TRB to identify ways to improve the data review process while maintaining high quality standards (at least 20% of new occurrence records reviewed per year).
- Publish new species distribution models on a monthly basis to make the best use of available data.
- Continue to maintain and update the Madagascar‐based web server.
- Implement new utilities such as tools to monitor data use, customizable home pages for TRB members to encourage and acknowledge contributions, tools to list species in protected areas, and advanced search tools to find records by IUCN threat status and by protected area.
- Engage in communication activities to promote the utility of the data portal.
- Continue to promote the use of biodiversity data and related tools for designing and creating protected areas.
- Support existing protected area impacts (or effectiveness) monitoring with tools to list and search for species data by protected area, which will show trends over time in species presence.
- Develop and apply new biodiversity assessment methods to better integrate biodiversity safeguards and monitoring into the development of Madagascar’s national REDD+ strategy.
REBIOMA anticipated that one of the most direct outcomes would be an increase in the use of portal data. Data usage was expected to vary according to users’ needs. For example, models of species distributions under future climate scenarios could serve as an input for climate change analysis, whereas models of current species distributions are useful for CITES to define the number of species that could be taken/exported based on species distribution areas and in IUCN Red List analyses to quantify species range size and vulnerability. In addition, REBIOMA believed that the Ministry in charge of research permits could use distribution models to recommend that researchers survey the locations at which the models show a species is likely to occur.
Protected areas and sustainable financing through UN-REDD+ (Reducing Emissions through Deforestation and forest Degradation) projects are two of the best options for preserving Madagascar’s remaining forests and biodiversity. REBIOMA sought to support protected areas in two ways. First, new tools to search and list species by protected area were planned that would provide important baseline data for monitoring protected area effectiveness over time. Second, REBIOMA sought to continue to work with the Government of Madagascar to support data‐driven, systematic conservation planning for new protected areas, especially in the marine realm.
Primary Software Platforms
Occurrence records use the GBIF Integrated Publishing Toolkit (IPT). Google Analytics is used to track use of REBIOMA data.
The quality and quantity of biodiversity information available through the REBIOMA portal increased dramatically as a result of this project. REBIOMA added more than 107,000 new occurrence records to the database, and reviewed more than 116,000 new and existing records. Of the reviewed records, 98% were validated as “reliable”, and the small remaining percentage that were “questionable” have been referred back to the data owners to verify or correct. To facilitate the ongoing goal of sustainably increasing the rate of record validation (Objective 1), the REBIOMA TRB now numbers 34 terrestrial 6 marine experts who can review and evaluate the quality of submitted occurrence records. TRB members have activity logs on the site, which allow them to manage their activities on the portal in terms of adding and validating occurrence records, which should also work to increase the growth rate of the database.
Enhancements to the usability of the portal, and capacity-building of data owners and users, have both contributed to ongoing data demand. Through a number of workshops, training and outreach events, REBIOMA has cultivated new regional partners that can contribute data, and expanded the audience for the portal. Interactive tools in the portal itself now allow users to list species occurring within protected areas or custom-delimited geographic boundaries. Through a user-completed data-use form, which returns information on who is using the data and for what purposes each time records are downloaded, REBIOMA has tracked data use by researchers and managers for use in planning protected areas, and forecasting the viability of lemur populations, among other activities.
The impact of this expansion project has been tangible, and REBIOMA’s growing expertise in biodiversity data management bolstered their reputation as a regional leader in biodiversity informatics. The project contributed to the REDD+ scenario development, using current and predicted future species distribution models to estimate the effects of changes in forests and biodiversity. REBIOMA will be the technical lead on the WCS Madagascar Lemur Atlas Planning Grant (JRS Grant page), helping to develop and hone the vision for a possible Lemurs data portal. In addition REBIOMA is working with WCS and marine NGOs to conduct spatial analysis in planning new marine protected areas. This will fulfill Madagascar’s commitment in the Promise of Sydney to triple the country’s area of protected marine habitat.
The rapid initial expansion of the data base was greatly facilitated through a partnership with the Vahatra Association, which itself contributed 55,000 records. Partnerships like these had the dual advantage of streamlining the record validation process; when data were contributed by members of the Taxonomic Review Board (TRB), validation is considered to be redundant, and therefore records are automatically validated. REBIOMA sought to replicate the framework for this partnership as a strategy for increasing the efficiency of expansion efforts.
One impediment to validating records was georeferencing. Records were not considered valid if the coordinates of the occurrence cannot be determined with some precision, which was relatively more common with occurrence records collected prior to the 1990’s. To the extent that precise localities could be identified, such records could be validated, but this work took additional time.
- Brown, J, & Yoder, A (2015). Shifting ranges and conservation challenges for lemurs in the face of climate change. Ecology and Evolution, 5(6), 1131-1142. doi:10.1002/ece3.1418. (link)
Project Director Biography
Dimby Razafimpahanana is an integrated land use manager, GIS analyst, and database specialist with experience in the use of spatial analysis tools, databases, spatial modeling, and conservation planning. He started his career at WCS as a GIS expert during the creation of the Masoala Protected Area in 1995. Since then, he has worked with many conservation organizations including WWF, World Heritage – Bemaraha Project, Madagascar National Parks (MNP), and the Office National pour L’Environnement (ONE). In 2005, he became the REBIOMA Project Coordinator.
Notes from JRS
This second grant to the WCS REBIOMA team completed the work of the first phase and integrated the data system more broadly into WCS’ conservation practice in Madagascar and the practice of other data providers and users. The success of this effort reinforces the lessons of our other projects that long-term investment is needed in training of leaders, data mobilization, refinement of the data platform, and outreach to users. The recruitment of outside experts to the project’s taxonomic review boards also help to raise the profile of the information system and increase the community involvement in data quality assurance and data sharing. The team’s work also demonstrates the model of letting data providers first post data in a private space before public sharing to protect sensitive data, allow time for publication, and to allow time for quality assurance.