Prof K N Ganeshaiah
Head, Department of Forestry and Environment Sciences,
University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore
IBN is a rich biodiversity repository of India. Prof K N Ganeshaiah, Coordinator, IBIN explains how their network is promoting a co-evolutionary growth among all the loosely coupled digital databases related to biological resources of the country.
How was the Indian Bio-resource Information Network (IBIN) conceived? What are its mandate and goals?
While we boast ourselves to be one of the rich biodiversity country having lot of traditional knowledge, we do not have answers to simple questions like, how many species of plants and animals we have? In fact, we discovered that scientific names of some of the most important plants were being wrongly used, even in commerce and science. Therefore, IBIN was conceived about a decade ago to fill these information gaps. These gaps were especially critical to conservation managers, bioprospecting scientists and the ecologists. Such information was also significant to our end users like scientists, biodiversity managers, ecologists, medicine and other industries along with common man.
The main node is at UAS very specifically at School of Ecology and Conservation, UAS GKVK Bangalore. The other core node is at IIRS Dehradun. The funding is almost entirely from Dept of Biotechnology but ISRO funds are also used.
How is it different from earlier biodiversity database efforts such as the Indian Biodiversity Information System (IBIS), Conservation India or even the Forest Survey of India?
IBIS does not yet have a database site. It is only at the project level. FSI does not have databases on biodiversity elements. None of the databases are as rich and diverse as IBIN.
Can you elaborate on the importance and benefits of having up-to-date data on biodiversity?
Imagine a plant out in wilderness suddenly becomes very valuable for its new known commercial use. The plant gets harvested. However, in the absence of appropriate data it is difficult to estimate the permitted levels of harvesting. This results in over harvesting of species leading to its extinction. This can be avoided if we have data on distribution of the population of the plant. We can develop spatial maps of harvesting regimes that could be allowed for a sustainable use of the plant- thus saving it from extinction and also permitting its utilisation.
Moreover, billions of dollars can be saved by having up-to-date data on biodiversity. Several organisations are spending billions on preparing lists of rare, endangered and threatened species (RETs). Due to lack of accurate data each list shows different statistics. As a result money spend on making these inconclusive lists goes down the drain. An accurate data on the species population can help us develop an updated list of RETs and reduce costs.
How is IBIN utilising geospatial technology in fulfilling its mission and objectives?
We are, for the first time, providing data from both satellite-based remote sensing and inventories in the field. Together they complement in offering spatial data on the web-based geo-server programmes with international standards of coding. The distribution data is offered in the background of the Bhuvan’s layers from NRSC/ IIRS which are perhaps the most detailed contextual spatial data sets for the ecologists to interpret the ecological requirements, habitat features etc., for the species. We are also providing services to the end users in form of spatial modelling.
IBIN’s operations hinges on a smooth coordination with various departments like the IIRS Dehradun, UAS Bangalore and various other partners like Bio-resource Information Centres or BRICs. Who are these BRICs and to which department they belong?
Currently five organisations comprise the BRICs. They are Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment in Bangalore, FRLHT in Bangalore, IHBT in Palampur, Botany Department Kolkata University and NEHU in Shillong.
We are planning to extend the number of organisations in BRICs to 25 in the next phase and then to 100 in the final phase. As a result, the entire geographic area of the country will be covered with diverse themes.
Does IBIN face a problem in obtaining data and keeping it updated given the typical problem of data sharing between various departments that is so characteristic in India?
We work on the principle of sharing data. All those who share data with us also get data information from our side. We also add value to these databases. Infact, one of IBIN’s major goals is to network and promote an open ended, co-evolutionary growth among all the loosely coupled digital databases related to biological resources of the country and to add value to the databases by integration and sharing.
However, reluctance to share data among various government departments is a big hurdle in meeting this goal, but we believe that eventually all would understand and join us in this nation building effort.
What are your views on the spatial data scene in India? Do you think the country has fully realised the benefits of having complete and updated spatial databases?
The full potential is certainly not realised and there is a lot more scope to adopt the tools for effective harvesting. Persuasion with the funding agencies and demonstration with end users could create more awareness about the need for spatial data and clear such roadblocks. The data scene should be relaxed further, and we have certainly made a good beginning.