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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 October-January 2020 period, the PEER team furthered citizen science program through social media, bio-blitzes, field days, and bird count events in the greater Santo Domingo metropolitan area. The team have continued to update their  citizen science web page (see http://www.grupojaragua.org.do/cc) and linked subpages on ID resources: (http://www.grupojaragua.org.do/cc/id ) and events (http://www.grupojaragua.org.do/cc/eventos) with pages translated into English. The number of participants in citizen science continues to grow. The team have continued to train participants during their citizen science activities in the use of iNaturalist and eBird, the two leading platforms for citizen science reporting at a global scale. This is an ongoing activity as new people continue to come to the events. The PEER team reportedly continue to keep busy helping out with identifications of participants' submissions, also seeking help from volunteer experts.  The relationship with other nature-related groups/initiatives in the Dominican Republic keeps strengthening as the team coordinate more joint activities and shared experiences continue grow.  

During this quarter, the team was preparing for the City Nature Challenge -  a global citizen science event coordinated by the National Academies of Sciences (Academia de Ciencias de la República Dominicana), which the PEER team  helped coordinate  in the Dominican Republic. Joining this initiative has meant attending multinational conference calls, emailing and other coordination with the international and local organizers and participants. As an player in citizen science in the DR, the team have been invited to give a key-note speech on citizen science at the opening ceremony of the Interdisciplinary Science Congress, organized yearly by the Ministry of Higher Education, Technology and Science (MEESCyT).

For the biodiversity database component of the project, the team continue to work on database records (from international data holding institutions and citizen science records) for Hispaniola, which involves cleaning and correcting six occurrence datasets to be published as separate datasets in our GBIF publishers page. This has proven to be more work than anticipated, due to their large volume (+300,000 records) and issues with Taxon Id changes that need to be sorted out before publication. For this reason, the team are focusing now on publishing first national biodiversity checklists for Hispaniola so that Taxon uncertainties and changes can be updated and dealt with in this smaller dataset (around 7,000 species of flora and fauna). For both checklists and datasets, the team are following the GBIF guidelines and Darwin Core standards for every data field.
 
 
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