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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: August 2013 to March 2016

Project Website:

Indonesia Picture A
Meeting held at Universitas Gundarma held October 24, 2013. The meeting involved the central project group as well as some university faculty (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
The project activities started with an October 2013 meeting between the research team and officials from Universitas Gundarma. The team started preliminary design work for the digital biodiversity reference library and the computer system needed to run it, and on December 23 they held their first coordination meeting with the software developers and other partners. During this meeting, participants discussed the target audience, intellectual property issues, and the process by which the team will develop the computer code. To help align the project with ongoing academic objectives at Universitas Gundarma, Dr. Wiryana and his team decided to assign the software development tasks to master’s degree students from the university’s computer science department.
Short-term plans for the first quarter of 2014 include completion of the computer portal. To that end, a number of “CodeCamp” or “HackingDay” sessions have been scheduled to accelerate software development. With the acquisition of the mainframe computer expected in April 2014, the research team can then train potential users—biology students, national park officers, para-taxonomists, citizen scientists, and the like—on using the system and the equipment used in the field. The research team is planning a workshop at Universitas Tanjungpura. Students from the school’s biology and computer science departments will be invited to the workshop to test and suggest improvements to the computer system.
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