Missouri Botanical Garden Open Conference Systems, TDWG 2014 ANNUAL CONFERENCE

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Linking data, services and communities using Virtual Research Environments (VRE); The Scratchpads example
Dimitrios Koureas, Simon Rycroft, Vince Smith

Building: Elmia Congress Centre, Jönköping
Room: Rydbergsalen
Date: 2014-10-29 09:00 AM – 09:15 AM
Last modified: 2014-10-04


Biodiversity informatics is concerned with improving the management of data, information and knowledge from molecular to ecosystems level, and supports a holistic approach to the study of biodiversity. In this regard, informatics tools and services are critical to systematically and reliably assess global biodiversity changes and make coherent and robust predictions about ecosystems. Over the last decade significant efforts have been put into designing and developing e-infrastructures. From a technical perspective, the biodiversity informatics community has taken considerable steps towards data and system interoperability, making use of the latest web technologies.

The last decade of e-infrastructures development has created a convoluted and fragmented landscape of services which researchers find difficult to discover, navigate and efficiently use. One of the main reasons that stop researchers from systematically using cyber-infrastructures is the lack of cohesive solutions that provide easy access to suitable services and tools through consistent and easy-to-use interfaces. Biodiversity researchers are required to switch between different digital environments and rely on tedious manual work to structure and transform their data, over and over again, to conform to different specifications. The lack of a seamless virtual framework which facilitates the entire research data lifecycle is hindering the adoption of existing digital solutions and minimises their impact to science.

For current investments in e-infrastructures to have a positive and lasting impact on the delivery of inter-disciplinary biodiversity research, it is critical that they can be discovered and used by the majority of researchers, including long-tail (niche) researchers, across different communities worldwide. The impact of e-infrastructures on biodiversity research can be multiplied if we can develop and deploy comprehensive and seamlessly running Virtual Research Environments (VRE) that sit on top of available e-infrastructures and deliver simple, effective and engaging platforms that facilitate cross-domain collaboration and support the entire research lifecycle.

Scratchpads (http://scratchpads.eu) has been actively developed since 2007 to provide an online collaborative platform for biodiversity research and citizen scientists to enter, curate, link and publish their data online. Scratchpads currently support more than 6300 users in about 530 virtual communities. In this talk we discuss, by employing the Scratchpads example, the technical, sociocultural and sustainability challenges of creating the next generation of VREs and describe our efforts in consolidating previous efforts to build leveraging and integrating existing e-infrastructures to deliver a scale of scientific activity and collaboration that has hitherto not been possible.