Biodiversity Informatics

Broadening the Database Field and Future Directions for Database Research

Biodiversity | Biodiversity Informatics | Biodiversity Keynote/Invited Talks
Industry Sessions | Biodiversity Domain Session 
Background Material | VLDB Endowment Panel



The most striking feature of Earth is the existence of life, and the most striking feature of life is its diversity. This biological diversity—or biodiversity—provides us with clean air, clean water, food, clothing, shelter, medicines, and aesthetic enjoyment. Biodiversity, and the ecosystems that support it, contribute trillions of dollars to national and global economies, directly through industries such as agriculture, forestry, fishing, and ecotourism and indirectly through biologically-mediated services such as plant pollination, seed dispersal, grazing land, carbon dioxide removal, nitrogen fixation, flood control, waste breakdown, and the biocontrol of crop pests. And biodiversity—the species richness of habitats per se—is perhaps the single most important factor influencing the stability and health of ecosystems.

Biodiversity Informatics

It is not surprising that information about biodiversity forms the basis of one of our most important knowledge domains, vital to a wide range of scientific, educational, commercial, and government uses. Unfortunately, most biodiversity information now exists in forms that are not easily accessed or used. From traditional paper-based libraries to scattered databases of varying size and physical specimens preserved in natural-history collections throughout the world, our record of biodiversity is uncoordinated and poorly integrated, and large parts of it are isolated from general use. We lack the technologies needed to effectively gather, analyze, and synthesize these data into new discoveries. As a result, this information is not being used as effectively as it could by scientists, resource managers, policy-makers, or other potential client communities. The good news is that research activities are being conducted around the world that could improve our ability to manage biodiversity information, and the emerging field of biodiversity informatics is attempting to meet the challenges posed by this domain.

To leap beyond conventional data management requires a depth of understanding of specific domains before the solutions can be generalized. Hence, researchers should choose an application domain within which to investigate new challenging data management requirements. Biodiversity is an ideal such domain in which database researchers, in co-operation with biodiversity experts, could contribute to both good computer science and significantly contribute to improving the world for all living creatures. Such multi-disciplinary work requires significant time and effort to understand the domain requirements and the potential that data management could bring. Biodiversity and biodiversity informatics were chosen as themes of VLDB 2000 to illustrate the Broadening Strategy. Biodiversity involves a worldwide network of people, computers, and information bases that are vastly more effective used co-operatively than separately. The Biodiversity keynote by Dr. Ebbe Nielsen, the Biodiversity Domain Session, and the Applications Industrial Session pose relevant challenges to the database community.

Biodiversity Keynote/Invited Talks

Dr. Ebbe S. Nielsen, Director, Australian National Insect Collection, and one of the world's leading biodiversity scientists and an expert in the developing field of biodiversity informatics, will give a keynote talk titled "Biodiversity Informatics: The Challenge of Rapid Development, Large Databases and Complex Data."

Industry Sessions

The VLDB2000 Industrial and Domain Sessions were selected by Industry and Domain Session Program Chair Umesh Dayal, Hewlett-Packard Laboratories (USA). In VLDB2000 there was a significant increase in the number of industrial sessions, one of the strongest ever in a VLDB, plus an innovation called a Domain Session, which focuses on the conference application theme of biodiversity.

Domain Session on Biodiversity Informatics

Work and Information Practices in the Sciences of Biodiversity 
Geoffrey C. Bowker, University of California–San Diego 

Research Directions in Biodiversity Informatics
John L. Schnase, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Biodiversity Informatics Infrastructure: An Information Commons for the Biodiversity Community
Gladys A. Cotter and Barbara T. Bauldock, US Geological Survey

Background Information on Biodiversity and Biodiversity Informatics

Biodiversity Informatics is a discipline at the crossroads of biology and information technology using computers to solve problems in the life sciences; traditionally with emphasis in the areas of medical, genetic, and molecular biology, but increasingly being used more broadly to cover methods for gathering, discovering, and accessing all biological data, to serve the diverse needs of scientists, research biologists, resource managers, decision makers, educators, and the public. The following resources provide additional information on biodiversity and biodiversity informatics.

NSF Biocomplexity in the Environment

NASA Earth Science Enterprise

Nature and Human Society–National Academy Press

BIOSIS and the Zoological Society of London

Teaming with Life–Report of the PCAST Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystems

National Biological Information Infrastructure

Global Biodiversity Information Facility

NSF/USGS/NASA Workshop on Biodiversity Informatics

VLDB Endowment Panel and the Biodiversity Theme

Over its fifty-year history, computer science has produced an amazingly rich and powerful set of general-purpose tools. As general purpose tools, they are somewhat sterile. It may now be time for computer scientists to apply these tools in specific domains to attempt to address the Grand Challenges of Man, arising in those domains. Computer science today is much like mathematics at the turn of the century. Advances in mathematics paved the way for solving major problems in physics, chemistry, astrophysics, engineering, pharmaceuticals, etc. Computing is now in position of enabling progress towards solutions to the Grand Challenges of Man as long as the relevant domains are fully understood. 

There will be a plenary VLDB Endowment-sponsored panel on "Broadening the Database Field and Future Directions for Database Research." This panel is not one of the regular refereed panels in the technical program. It will be a forum for explaining and discussing the Broadening Strategy used in VLDB2000, the Future Directions activity of  the VLDB Endowment, and the future manifestation of these strategies. It will be moderated by John Mylopoulos, University of Toronto, Canada, and VLDB Endowment President and panelists are Michael L. Brodie, GTE; Hans-Jorge Schek, ETH-Zurich; Stefano Ceri, Politecnico Di Millano; and Umeshwar Dayal, Hewlett-Packard Laboratories.


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Last updated June 7th, 2000