Biodiversity Next 2019: vision, inspiration, action for our collective future

Deborah L Paul, Capacity Development Manager

Erica Krimmel, Digitization Resource Coordinator

Caitlin Chapman, Biodiversity Informatics Coordinator





It took an intense 14 months and an international team of over 40 people (Steering Board, Program Committee, professional meeting organizers, local hosts at Naturalis, and conference supporters) to realize the first-of-its-kind Biodiversity Next Conference in Leiden, Netherlands. Over 700 people came together to discuss and envision ways to help humans develop better worldwide biodiversity data in support of better science, and in turn, better local to global policies. Through the Biodiversity_Next 2019 BISS Conference Proceedings you can peruse the 368 selected abstracts and view for yourself, 64 posters and 303 talk slide decks. The program was organized in four tracks: science, infrastructure, standards, policy & coordination.




A major focus of Biodiversity Next centered on the need to align our biodiversity efforts strategically and collaboratively. Why do this? We need expertise-sharing, capacity development, and borderless strategies to successfully address our complicated ecosystem issues across both natural and human-activities ecosystems. Conference attendees varied widely in their expertise and included museum staff and researchers, software developers, cyberinfrastructure experts, industry partners, ecologists, conservation experts, government leaders, and policy development experts. And, we can find hope in noting that technology innovations presented seem to be offering us the chance to work together at a scale not possible ever before.


Biodiversity Next made great efforts to highlight human, technology, and data needs for the southern hemisphere in a symposium: Biodiversity Informatics: Perspectives from the Global South. Through the support of the JRS Foundation, over 15 Africans were able to join and contribute to this global conference and also participate in the Biodiversity Informatics 101 Workshop with 75 participants from over 30 countries. You can get a flavor for all the activities looking at the twitter activity. And as to what might come next, and how you can play a role (locally and globally) please look forward to a post-meeting declaration and mark your calendars for the Biodiversity Summit 2020, Sept 23 - 27 in Alexandria, Virginia. Calls for submitting events to this meeting will go out soon (likely in January 2020).


Some Biodiversity_Next 2019 takeaways.


This meeting illustrated the need for not only technical, but also social solutions to our world’s biodiversity crisis. One of the keynote speakers, Ana Maria Hernandez of IPBES, posed a particularly challenging question to the audience, asking why we are still losing biodiversity at an alarming rate when we are already putting so much effort into collecting data, doing science, developing targets, agreeing on policies, etc. The incredible diversity and amount of presentations at Biodiversity Next were a testament to this effort, as was the overwhelming response in conference attendance. Keynote speakers Max Gomera (UN Environment) and Carrie Seltzer (iNaturalist) spoke to the same existential question and highlighted the need to focus on humanity as an answer. Gomera spoke about the importance of involving the people who live with the biodiversity of a particular region as genuine stakeholders in the data -> science -> policy pipeline. Seltzer pointed out that the root of biodiversity science starts with a simple question asked every day by hundreds of thousands of scientists and non-scientists alike: “what is this?” Aligning our science objectives, policy initiatives, data standards, and infrastructure projects is necessary work, but without an eye to the human element of such work we risk seeing it fail to result in real change.



At a meta level, Biodiversity Next was a microcosm of how we can work on technical and social solutions in concert. For every program session on developing a new data standard, there was another on increasing people’s access to data or skills. For every presentation sharing the results of biodiversity science, there was another identifying what we don’t yet know. The structure of and attendees at this meeting meant that there were people in every room who represented perspectives widely distributed on the spectrum of technical to social, as well as from historical to future. Keynote speaker Jorge Soberón of CONABIO reminded the audience where we were 30 years ago, and how far we have progressed with our technical challenges. Christiana Pasca Palmer (Convention on Biological Diversity) and Paul Hebert (University of Guelph) both shared a technological vision for future biodiversity science. In Hebert’s words, “what we have is artisanal, what we need is industrial.” This end of the spectrum was balanced by two other keynote speakers, Theo Jansen and Jalila Essaïdi, who inspired the audience with whimsical sculptures and fabric made from cow manure, respectively. Jansen and Essaïdi reminded us that we, like most humans, are captivated and motivated by intriguing narratives and creative possibilities.


The communities represented by Biodiversity Next attendees are fractional compared to the global population–Seltzer informed us that while “what is this” groups on Facebook are numerous and have hundreds of thousands of members, the Instant Pot Facebook group alone has an audience of >2 million–and we cannot continue to solve problems without making service to humanity our primary goal. That’s a big goal, but one that many have already been taking small steps towards. Within iDigBio, for instance, we have spent the last nine years building a technical system to share specimen data, but also supporting the US and international biodiversity collections community through workshops, symposia, and other person-to-person interactions. This community support has helped to maintain and grow a strong human network that positions us well to respond to both technical and social challenges in our Biodiversity Next future.