UWI’s Life Sciences Dep’t awarded €40,000 for biodiversity research

UWI’s Life Sciences Dep’t awarded €40,000 for biodiversity research

A €40,000 grant has been awarded to the University of the West Indies (UWI) Life Sciences Department for research into biodiversity data in Trinidad and Tobago. 

In a statement, the UWI said the grant was awarded by the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) via the Biodiversity Information for Development (BID) for a project entitled: “Improving the Accessibility of National Biodiversity Data in Trinidad and Tobago”.

The grant will allow the DLS to build upon significant previous efforts to publish biodiversity data from The University of the West Indies Zoology Museum’s (UWIZM) extensive zoological collections.

The UWI said this new project is especially exciting as it sees the UWIZM partnering with two other institutions: the National Herbarium of  T&T (also within the DLS and FST) and the National Museum and Art Gallery of Trinidad and Tobago , both of which also hold valuable natural history collections.

Beginning in October 2021, the first step will be to digitise and publish tens of thousands of specimen records from these three collections, collected over more than a century. Specimens will include thousands of native plant species and a wide variety of locally collected terrestrial and aquatic animals.

Professor Judith Gobin, Head of the DLS, said she is “extremely pleased” that the Department is playing such a key role in the digitisation of our valuable national collections.

Dr Amy Deacon, Lecturer in the DLS and the Lead on the two-year project, said the advantages of publishing these digitally online are huge.

“It means anyone, anywhere in the world will be able to access this data and learn about our biodiversity. They will also see where the actual specimens are housed, thus raising the profile of The UWI’s collections among international scientists and policy makers.”

As well as putting Trinidad and Tobago’s biodiversity data on the global stage, she said improving access at the local level is arguably even more important.

The UWI said those datasets with relevance to Trinidad and Tobago’s protected areas will also be uploaded to the Ministry of Planning & Development’s own biodiversity platform: the Trinidad and Tobago Biodiversity Information System (TTBIS), to further encourage use of these data at the local level.

A second element of the project will involve the training of a wide range of national stakeholders, including NGOs, Ministries and governmental institutions, through a series of workshops held over the next two years.

Through these interactive sessions, attendees will be trained in how to use the GBIF and TTBIS platforms to access, download and use information on Trinidad and Tobago’s biodiversity for a wide variety of purposes.

The UWI said the potential uses for these datasets are extremely broad, and include policy and decision-making, conservation management and education.

Jennalee Ramnarine of the UWIZM, who will also play a key role in the project, said there’s much more to biodiversity data than would seem at first glance. 

“Museums and herbariums are so much more than just collections of dead specimens in jars or sheets of dried leaves. In fact, the specimens held in these collections represent invaluable data that can be used to inform policy and conservation to ensure that we protect our natural heritage for future generations.”

The public can follow the project’s progress via the UWI Zoology Museum’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/uwizoologymuseum 

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