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Research on new species from biodiversity hotspots in the developing world, published in a range of journals, may soon become freely available online as soon as they are published, thanks to a project launched last week.

The project is a joint initiative between Pensoft Publishers in Bulgaria, and the Encyclopedia of Life (EOL) — a free and collaborative website that aims to document every living species on the planet.

Pensoft has developed software that extracts information about individual species from research articles published in its peer-reviewed journals. This is then added to the EOL website.

The project, launched on 15 February, is also offering funds for scientists in the developing world to cover the cost of publishing papers.

The collaboration means new data will be "delivered to EOL on the day of publication", so that "citizens of developing countries will know about new discoveries straight away," according to Lyubomir Penev, managing director of Pensoft Publishers.

Penev told SciDev.Net that taxonomy (categorising species) forms the basis of nature conservation and the rational use of natural resources, so freely accessible information is vital to scientists in those developing countries with the greatest biodiversity, in regions such as Africa and South America.

"Scientists in the developing world don't have access to [subscription] journals as they can't afford the subscriptions," said Penev, adding that this is also a problem for many libraries in developing countries.  

Publishers normally charge authors a fee for open access publication, but the EOL Open Access Support Project (EOASP) has established a pilot fund to cover publishing costs for scientists in developing countries, said Penev.

Initially the pilot fund will pay for 50 papers, according to Penev.

"The initial investment for the EOASP came from the [US-based] Smithsonian Institution and there is no longer term commitment until we evaluate the programme," Cyndy Parr, director of content at EOL, told SciDev.Net.

The Pensoft journals involved in the EOASP project include the International Journal of Myriapodology (study of centipedes and millipedes), MycoKeys (fungi), PhytoKeys (botany), and ZooKeys (zoology).

Similar open access initiatives include the Biodiversity Heritage Library. Terry Erwin, an entomologist at Smithsonian Institution, said he hoped that initiatives like these will help make biodiversity literature more freely available online.