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BITC / Biodiversity Inventories - Introduction to the BITC IV

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Any questions about that much? [participant] I'm not sure if it's really a question because it's concerning natural history museums. We don't have a natural history museum here in Cameroon. How can we young Cameroonians, or young Africans, manage to build more? [Town] That's a very good question. It's also a very difficult question because it requires institution building. In South Africa, we held a week-long course about this question. And we had the CEO of the South African National Biodiversity Institute giving us her wisdom on those questions. And we had people from Brazil, Mexico, and around the world reflecting on this. And, it's a very difficult question because these collections are not very forgiving. You can build them up with thousands of hours of work; and, then they can disappear in hours, minutes, days, or a year. A bird collection that's not taken care of, particularly in the tropics, can be gone in a year. One big piece of the question is institutional permanency. And, usually, universities are the most permanent institutions. But, that's a question that is specific to a context. Sometimes it's government-based. Sometimes it's a university. Sometimes it's a separate institute. Every situation will be different. The strategy that was explored in the course in South Africa, was one of establishing the reasons why you would want the institution. Why should there be natural history collections in Cameroon? And, I think we have a good idea as to why. But also, the building of a firm enough institutional base to ensure it will last longer than a year or a decade. And then, actually populating that institution with specimens and data. It's a wonderful challenge for the Cameroonians -and for every other institution represented around the table- of how do you start an institution and build it to something meaningful? Or, how do you take an institution that already exists and build it into something that is more meaningful and more permanent? I can connect you with that course. It's a whole week of wisdom from people with a lot more experience than me. But, also, it does require dedication and effort by people like you. Again, a very multi-dimensional challenge. Yes, Dr. Mafane? [Dr. Mafane] One of the slides that you showed had a triangle -yes, that's it: the data availability-technology-ideas and concepts. I was wondering about the human component of biodiversity informatics. My thinking is that if the human component is not included here, then it kind of waters down the whole idea of biodiversity informatics because if not for your ideas we wouldn't be where we are. It links with what was just asked. We need the human input. In other management systems, the human component is always emphasized. Isn't it important here in biodiversity informatics? [Town] Do you mean the human component in terms of doing these tasks? [Dr. Mafane] Yes. [Town] Okay. [Town] This is my opinion, but I think that what you've seen in this field is that different human components have made different circles happen. [Dr. Mafane] Okay. [Town] For example, the natural history museum world has always been focused on this data question. Some institutions have gone farther and made their data available. And other institutions have either be slower or uninterested in making their data available. Okay? Then, there's a separate set of people who do the technology side. And, many times, the technology people and the data people don't really interact. And there aren't many people who bridge between the two. And then, there idea and concepts people who may not be based at a museum and understand much about the data; and, who may have no understanding of the technology. So, we have people in each of these circles and it's a rare person that covers two or three of them. I think that's a next level challenge that's part of solving this puzzle. Imagine a co-doctorate in computer science and evolutionary biology. Right? No institution offers that. But, imagine a PhD that crosses between those two. And, imagine putting serious data management expertise embedded within natural history museums. That exists, but it's fairly rare. For example, in the University of Kansas natural history museum, we have a woman named Laura Russell who was at the Kenya course. Laura is a very capable database programmer. And she interacts with people like Mark and me and Rafe and Dave who work with the data to bridge between specimens and a database. That link with the technology people is not very common. In both an African context and a U.S. context, to me it all comes back to highest level training: graduate school and giving people the skills to bridge amongst these circles.

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Duration: 7 minutes and 43 seconds
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Language: English
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Posted by: townpeterson on Jun 22, 2016

This talk was presented in the course on Biodiversity Inventories, an advanced course focused on developing complete inventories of species present at sites. The workshop was held in Buea, Cameroon, during 2-5 March 2015. Workshop organized by the Biodiversity Informatics Training Curriculum, with funding from the JRS Biodiversity Foundation. Instructors included David Blackburn, Rafe Brown, Town Peterson, Mark Robbins, and Moses Sainge

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