India expands its biodiversity databases

India is expanding its biodiversity databases. Copyright: hindu.com

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[HYDERABAD] India is expanding its biodiversity databases and linking them in a network so that policymakers for programmes that address biodiversity, climate change and socio-economic concerns have ready access to information.

An Indian Bioresources Information Network (IBIN) was launched this month (11 October) by M. S. Swaminathan, eminent crop scientist and founder of the M.S. Swaminathan Foundation of India, on the sidelines of the 11th conference of parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), in Hyderabad.

IBIN builds on a 14-year-old agreement between India’s department of biotechnology (DBT) and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) to combine remote sensing data with ground observations to characterise biodiversity and landscapes.

"Landscape characterisation is important for any evolving landscape conservation strategy," P. S. Roy, a scientist with the Indian Institute of Remote Sensing, Dehra Dun, under ISRO, said during a discussion on IBIN on 17 October.

DBT has already compiled three databases – one on biodiversity characterisation at landscape level, which comprises a spatial database on vegetation/land use types, landscape fragmentation, disturbance regimes, species richness, biodiversity value, and biological (plant) richness.

A second database is on plants, animals, marine and microbial resources, while a third is on vegetation, forest cover and other landscape elements.

The three datasets are the largest on the country’s biological resources, K. N. Ganeshiah of school of ecological sciences, University of Agriculture Sciences, Bangalore, told SciDev.Net.

IBIN would forge links with existing biodiversity databases, Ganeshiah said.

This adds to the efforts of The Indian Biodiversity Information System (IBIS), started in 2010 by the Foundation of Ecological Security, a non-government organisation based in Anand, Gujarat state, to expands its database on birds to mammmals. IBIS announced this at the COP-11 meeting on 14 Oct.

IBIN and IBIS add to smaller independent initiatives – such as ‘Conservation India’, a portal launched in January 2012 to drive biodiversity information – which have come to play a central role in development strategies. These range from food production through health delivery to education, media and communication  and are aimed at fostering a culture of conservation among citizens.

India‘s provinces also maintain people’s biodiversity registers, with information available in different languages and formats, all with  no interoperable framework or network, experts say.

Separately, a National Biodiversity Information Outlook project is being discussed by India’s ministry of environment and forests with the National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) and the Wildlife Institute of India to serve as a ‘national grid’.

NBA chairman Balakrishna Pisupati said the project aims to bring together biodiversity data currently scattered in many institutions around India, to enable policymaking to be better informed than it is at present.