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Partnerships for enhanced engagement in research (PEER) SCIENCE
Cycle 2 (2012 Deadline)

Citizen science solutions for national biodiversity data needs: developing a plant checklist for West Kalimantan, Indonesia

PI: I Made Wiryana (Universitas Gunadarma)
U.S. Partner: Campbell Webb (Harvard University)
Project Dates: September 2013 to March 2016

Project Website: http://www.flora-indonesia.id/
 

2-457 Fall Project Workshop
The project team conducts a training workshop for citizen scientists in December 2015 (Photo courtesy Dr. Wiryana).

For various reasons, better data are needed on the plant biodiversity resources of Indonesia, especially given the major land use changes under way in the country. There are simply not enough professional botanists with the time and funds to visit the many under-collected places in Indonesia. However, there exists a very enthusiastic group of students, park rangers and professional environmental consultants who frequently travel to the field and make informal observations of plants, which they share via social digital media. Using this network of citizen scientist “parataxonomists” represents the only realistic hope for increasing our rate of biodiversity inventory. Under this project, Dr. Wiryana and his team will develop a comprehensive digital reference library, including many thousands of plant images and Internet resources and platforms to facilitate the accurate identification of plant species and the sharing of observations. In January 2014, they will host an intensive training course for 12 parataxonomists in West Kalimantan, an area of very high plant diversity but facing serious biodiversity threats, with the aim of the course being to build rigor in data and metadata collection and share plant knowledge. Equipped with tablets pre-installed with a digital library, digital cameras, and netbooks for image storage and curation, the participants will take part in a 15-day expedition to an under-explored area of West Kalimantan, where they will put their skills to work, photographing and identifying plants. The data collected will then be uploaded and integrated into the online project platform. Photographs of some plants will be matched by technicians at the national herbarium (Herbarium Bogoriense). The outcome will be thousands of new plant observation records and the basis for an up-to-date checklist of the plants of West Kalimantan and digital flora for Indonesia.

Beyond its value in contributing to the wise management of Indonesia’s plants at the provincial level, the project will also serve as a data source for several national and international initiatives related to biodiversity, plant conservation, and taxonomy. Including citizen scientists as parataxonomists will also help to improve the ability of local communities to manage biodiversity sustainably and equitably, including factors based on local knowledge and wisdom. The project will also demonstrate how providing members of the local communities with easy access to information sources and simple and appropriate technology for documenting and monitoring biodiversity can make a valuable contribution to biodiversity programs at the local, regional, national, and international levels.
Summary of Recent Activities
After an initial workshop held in Pontianak January 26-27-2014, 12 parataxonomists took part in field collection expeditions over the following eight months. Although they had received basic taxonomic training, the participants came from different educational and employment backgrounds. Some were lecturers or students, some were hobbyists, and some worked for non-governmental organizations relevant to the plant community. Each expedition was carried out over 12 days by 4 groups. With the aim of developing a preliminary plant database and accurate precursor checklist for West Kalimantan, initially the targets for each group were set at 250 samples with metadata and more than 2,500 high-resolution images of plants and plant parts. Motivated by their enthusiasm, the groups expanded the range and duration of their field visits. Although most of the plants encountered were common, as was expected, the teams collected 1,693 plant samples plus associated metadata, as well as more than 20,000 images (50 Gigabytes). The metadata was developed by the NSF-funded partner, Campbell Webb, and plant identifications by species were made with the assistance of Ismail Rahman, a professional plant specialist based at the Herbarium Bogoriense (BO), and Dr. Teguh Triono, project co-PI. A total of 907 unique species were found, 786 of which were identified as common. All identified samples and their metadata were then uploaded into the project database and published on the project portal, which has been developed as an information portal about all biodiversity in Indonesia. The portal facilitates an inventory of specimens and provides some learning and reference material that can be used by specialists, students, or the general public. The material from project workshops is also available on this portal, which provides an easy and fun way of browsing each collection of images with direct access to the best resources (checklists, interactive keys, image collections) for identifying taxa. As observations have been uploaded and given determinations, the system has automatically incorporated these new data into a dynamically generated checklist that is accessible and downloadable in various formats.

Several additional training and outreach activities were carried out on the project since the 2014 expeditions involving the 12 core parataxonomists in West Kalimantan. The PI and co-PI asked the best three to share their experience by becoming trainers themselves in a three-day workshop for biology undergraduates at the local Tanjung Pura University in August 2014. In October 2014, the team also held a seven-day workshop in Jakarta, during which they presented their original week-long field biodiversity recording course, but this time targeting parataxonomists who already had extensive field survey experience throughout Indonesia. Finally, to develop the biodiversity informatics skills that form the foundation for the team’s approach, Dr. Wiryana and his colleagues offered a three-day biodiversity training course in March 2015 based on the successful “Code Camp” offered by Drs. Webb, Wiryana, and Triono in September 2012 (see http://xmalesia.info/doc/codecamp.html).

So far, this research has led to the creation of a new special course on web semantics and has added a new research theme to the doctoral degree program in information technology at Gunadarma University. It has resulted in conference proceedings publications (one international, one Indonesian), three master’s theses, and two bachelor’s theses. The main project portal is available at http://www.flora-indonesa.id and the submission portal is at http://peerkalbar.flora-indonesia.id. The project team has presented the new system to the Municipal Government in Jakarta (Pulau Seribu - Thousand Islands), which manages the in Thousand Islands National Park, as the team plans to deploy a similar system for conducting a biodiversity inventory in Pulau Seribu. They also introduced via KEHATI (the NGO where the co- PI now works) the use of this platform for the Biodiversity Warriors group. Finally, they have also presented the system to the Ministry of Research Technology and Higher Education as an example relevant to the Ministry’s current Science and Technology Information System (SIIN) project.

During the third quarter of 2015 Dr. Wiryana and his team refined their project portal at www.flora-indonesia.id. Some data are yet to be completed, but training materials have been prepared for uploading. The team also purchased several pieces of computer equipment for use in converting data for the portal and in their next planned workshops. The first was held at Gunadarma University in Jakarta December 14-15, 2015 for lecturers from at least five universities in Java. During this workshop the PI and his colleagues presented the training materials they had prepared and introduced their portal. Their second workshop was hosted by Tanjungpura University in Pontianak December 17-18 to train participants on using the application for submitting biodiversity data to the portal. Time was also provided for participants to practice actual data submissions. The team’s future plans include holding a three-day CodeCamp to finalize the portal, during which the software developers will work intensively on uploading and rechecking data, as well as incorporating additional features in the site and developing a mobile app. In January 2016, the project team held an outreach workshop to introduce the portal to staff members from relevant government agencies and nongovernmental organizations. Finally, as the project prepares to wrap up by the end of March 2016, Dr. Wiryana and his colleagues also plan to form a biodiversity informatics chapter in a professional organization.
 
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