South Africa’s Biodiversity data pipeline for wetlands and waterbirds – the ‘BIRDIE Project’

Image: Doug Harebottle 

Freshwater resources and wetlands of Southern Africa are of international importance as they provide a host of ecological services. Important data about wetland birds, when combined with crucial information like water quality or the threat status of a wetland, can contribute excellent indicators of freshwater biodiversity to support decision making, wetland rehabilitation and protection efforts.

However, while local data exists for many freshwater ecosystems –such as water quality, types of wetland plants in a particular location, or bird observations from a wetland or river system –  the challenge is in collating all such rough data in such a way that it can assist decision makers.

The South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) is leading a consortium of research institutions on a new biodiversity data pipeline project nicknamed the ‘BIRDIE Project’ funded by JRS Biodiversity Foundation. This project aims to develop a wetlands and waterbirds data-to-decision pipeline that will use statistical tools to extract policy-relevant information from key data. The project’s partners are the University of Cape Town (Centre for Statistics in Ecology, Environment and Conservation)and Fitzpatrick Institute of African Ornithology, Sol Plaatje University, Seascape Belgium and the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences. This consortium of institutions will ensure sufficient statistical modelling capacity, data pipeline development expertise and ecological knowledge to understand the challenges and threats facing freshwater biodiversity in South Africa. With help from other partners and end users of the pipeline, the consortium aims to ensure that the pipeline can produce the data products required for reporting on South Africa’s commitments to international conventions, and also be of use to decision makers at various scales.

Ultimately, the data pipeline will take the format of an online dashboard, backed by datasets, that will automate the production of important indicators for selected user needs.

The project will leverage two bird-related datasets: the Coordinated Waterbird Counts (CWAC) and Southern African Bird Atlas Project (SABAP). These data will be combined with other important informant layers (e.g. wetland threat status from the National Biodiversity Assessment and site data such as water quality) to create comprehensive data packages that feed the pipeline.


Image: Doug Harebottle 

Planned outputs of the project

In addition to the data pipeline and its web-interface that will be available to end users, the project will have the following outputs:

  • Project reports and documents covering pilot sites, workshops, user interface, best practice guidelines, and project design to ensure all lessons learned are captured.
  • A waterbirds trend report incorporated into at least one of the following: a bioregional plan, a state of biodiversity report, a RAMSAR Report, or an African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) report.
  • Communication materials including conference presentations, scientific publications, newsletters, and social media.

Summary of project activities

There are many activities associated with this project, and they can be summarised as follows:

  • Assembling, engaging, and linking key stakeholders to help define user needs.
  • Preparing data (both bird data and other auxiliary datasets) and identifying key pilot sites to test the pipeline.
  • Exploring and defining current best practices in data pipeline development and statistical routines, and defining specifications for the architecture
  • Developing and testing a modular freshwater biodiversity data-to-decision pipeline that automates the production of indicators and displays these outputs on a user-driven, scalable web application.
  • Integrating the pipeline and web application into SANBI’s existing hardware and software systems to ensure interoperability with SANBI’s National Biodiversity Information System (NBIS) and other platforms developed by partners in South Africa.
  • Training users and system managers through various capacity building activities
  • Finalising the modular data analysis pipeline for converting raw data into decision-quality analytics and confirm its scalability.

Image: Doug Harebottle 

Useful links

For more information on the project please contact the project’s Principal Investigator Nancy Job or the project manager Carol Poole, or visit the JRS Biodiversity Foundation website.

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