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PARTNERSHIPS FOR ENHANCED ENGAGEMENT IN RESEARCH (PEER)
Cycle 7 (2018 Deadline)


Technology and citizen science for creating a solid and participatory biodiversity information system in Hispaniola

PI: Yolanda Leon (yolanda.leon@intec.edu.do), Instituto Tecnológico de Santo Domingo – INTEC, and co-PI Sixto Incháustegui (sixtojinchaustegui@yahoo.com), Grupo Jaragua
U.S. Partner: John Lloyd, Vermont Center for Ecostudies
Dates: November 1, 2018 - October 31, 2020

Project Overview

7-434_Leon_Dry forest habitats in Jaragua National Park.jpg
Dry forest habitats in Jaragua National Park. Photo courtesy of Dr. Leon
Despite being part of a global biodiversity hotspot, the Dominican Republic lacks information about its biodiversity at a suitable spatial scale for ecological research, species distribution, and habitat modeling, to influence land-use decisions. As a result, critical habitats are destroyed every day, pushing many species closer to extinction. Few experts and resources exist in-country for acquiring and/or digitizing the data required for such databases. Recently, two online citizen science platforms (inaturalist.org, ebird.org) have amassed vast amounts of geolocated species-level observations for Hispaniola. Also, worldwide herbaria and museum collections are increasingly being shared through common data standard platforms, such as the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) which already includes over 500,000 records for Hispaniola, many geolocated. This project will create a step-by-step protocol for combining these rich datasets into a Hispaniolan species checklist and occurrence database, with a special focus in the Jaragua-Bahoruco-Enriquillo (JBE) UNESCO Biosphere Reserve of the Dominican Republic. Unfortunately, some faunal groups of Hispaniola are underrepresented in available datasets, as they are difficult to observe in the wild. One of such groups are the amphibians, currently considered the most endangered assemblage on Earth, with 98% endemic species. The JBE Reserve is one of the richest in amphibian species for the island, providing refuge to at least 12 endemic frogs and toads.

The goal of this project is to enrich amphibian data occurrence datasets through acoustic monitoring, which is an efficient way to find and study amphibians. All the data generated by the project will provide a valuable tool for decision makers, land use planners, scientists, conservationists, tourism, educators, communities, students, and general public, as well as help enforce species’ and area-based protection laws. For researchers, these data will allow for hypothesis testing of many questions in the areas of biogeography, evolution, and ecology, as well as provide a key historic public resource for natural habitat restoration for immediate use or for generations to come. In the process, the project team will promote and build capacity for biodiversity data management and citizen science, as well as create a greater engagement of the public with nature and the environment that could well be key to its survival.

Development impacts
The project is anticipated to help reduce biodiversity impacts from new developments in the Dominican Republic, ensuring more sustainable growth, by making the biodiversity data (including threatened species) easily viewed and analyzed at the site level scale needed for permitting and environmental auditing process. Second, the project is anticipated to promote transparency and give credibility to environmental authorities by providing objective biodiversity information during controversial developments. With their spatial dimension, datasets from this project are anticipated to help identify resilient areas to climate change , ensuring the long term provision of environmental services for human communities such as drinking water, soil conservation, carbon storage and flood mitigation. In addition, by learning about Hispaniola's rich native biodiversity at the local level, this project is expected to help foster local pride and nature-tourism engagement, work, and benefits to communities. Finally, this project should help accelerate and better spatially target and design future research into biodiversity information that can be relevant to human health, food security, and commerce.

Project updates:

During March-June 2019 reporting period, for the citizen science component of the project, the project team began their bioblitz program with a first outing at Parque Mirador Sur of Santo Domingo. Prior to this, the team worked on the project´s citizen science web page at www.grupojaragua.org.do/cc to better organize the content. The sub-pages are dedicated to provide biodiversity identification resources and past and upcoming  project events.  The team continued to motivate and train users to use iNaturalist and eBird, the two leading platforms for citizen science reporting at a global scale and continued helping DR citizen scientists with their identifications either directly or by reaching out to expert colleagues.

For biodiversity database component, the project team continued to clean and curate Hispaniola´s biodiversity database (with originally 654,102 records) available from the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) database. The database now includes  fauna (454,897 records) and flora (19,305 records) to distribute the work between the two project leaders. The cleaning process has focused first on detecting mismatches between the records´ locations or coordinates and the country value (which was the main selection criteria for inclusion in the database), and secondly, on geo-coding records with no geographic
coordinates using GIS shapefiles, topo maps for the DR and Haiti and gazetteers.

During this period,  PI Dr. León and Lab manager Melina González attended a regional Caribbean meeting from the Global Biodiversity Information Facility´s (GBIF) project entitled: Biodiversity Information for Development (BID) in Trinidad (25-28 June). There, they networked with other researchers in the region working on national biodiversity databases as well as Spain, Colombia and the Denmark-based GBIF Secretariat staff. They learned about advances and best practices in biodiversity database publishing and discussed a strategy for engaging the Dominican government to join GBIF, and discussed plausible structures for a national biodiversity node.

The team also started work on two data papers from our plant and marine turtle projects in a biodiversity database compliant format. 
 
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