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Ecology

A SinBiota base is already in operation

The Paulista biodiversity is on the Internet, with lots of data and hundreds of maps

The São Paulo biodiversity will be in cyberspace. The Environment Information System of the Biota-FAPESP Program (SinBiota) went on the air this month at the electronic address: www.biota.org.br/sia, with data on more than 4,000 species of plants, animals and micro organisms registered within the State of São Paulo. The data appears in the form of a form completed by the researcher who collected the species sample or is graphically represented on a digital and interactive version of a map. More than simply a data bank for the 28 thematic projects of Biota, the program for the mapping of the biodiversity and São Paulo natural resources that began two years ago, the SinBiota is a virtual tool for the definition of preservation strategies.

With this new tool, it will be easier to establish regions and specific priorities for preservation, to provide assistance towards limiting the zones of agricultural expansion or advising on which direction a town might expand without harming the biodiversity. “In 2004, when the SinBiota will be fed with the data from the majority of these thematic projects, we will be able to begin an analysis that will give us an idea of the efficiency of the conservation system in situ in the State of São Paulo and how and where is might be improved.” explains Carlos Alfredo Joly, the coordinator of SinBiota and of Biota-FAPESP itself.

A regional initiative of global impact, the SinBiota places the biodiversity of the State of São Paulo, and consequently Brazil itself, in the digital era, similar to other initiatives in Europe and Australia. By the end of the year, besides receiving from the first registers of the Biota program, the SinBiota will have data on collections of species catalogued by national and foreign institutions, through agreements and partnerships that are presently being concluded, and will provided information to other data banks, both here and abroad.

The current stage
A sample of the initial version of the data bank: if, for example, the web surfer is interested in acacia, the system reveals the 50 samples of the five species that have already been picked up of this tree, especially the Acacia polyphylla. One can know when, where and who picked up each sample, or one can localize on a state map or that of a sub-region, the areas where the presence of each species was registered. The system allows for research in various forms beginning with the search mechanism. Among other possibilities, one can type the name of the species being sought, the author of a collection, a municipality or a river basin.

In order to locate with precision the incidence of the species in the state territory, the team had to construct a virtual atlas. Composed of 430 maps juxtaposed in a scale of 1:50,000, the atlas is an attraction on its own and serves as a base for environmental studies and field work. Researchers and professors can zoom in to pick out the points of occurrence of one or more species, print the map and go into the field to confirm, at the location, the biodiversity that the computer shows. “For this reason, just the creation for the state of the digital map itself is already a gigantic step forward for research.” ponders Joly.

Land and sea
Not all of the maps are ready, but there is already a lot to see. With a few clicks one can see on the screen a geographic map of the State which can be filled in with one or various layers of basic data: urban areas, municipality divisions, highways, conservation units, reservoirs and the 22 river basins. In an area of 19 basins there is even more specific data on the type of vegetation – Cerradão (thick wooded savanna land) Cerrado (type of savanna ), Atlantic Rain Forest and meadowland among others. In the three remaining basins, all on the coast, this information should be included by the end of the year.

Of the 19 river basins mapped, that of the river Mogi Guaçu, in the north west of the State, has the richest data. It couldn’t be different. The SinBiota began in the town of Mogi Guaçu and the surroundings. The region was chosen as a pilot area since it had available a good cartographic base, 44 detailed maps, and it already had written preliminary surveys of flora and fauna from collection points for well defined species. For this reason, for this river basin, besides the data common to the others, there is extra information such as the pattern of use of soils: the areas occupied by rivers, cities, different crops such as sugar cane, coffee, citrus fruit and others, as well as the unprotected soil are pinpointed. A high point of the work is the detailed information on drainage. “Whatever stream, whatever spring is there. For the other river basins we will initially only show the main rivers.” says Joly.

The maps have been done under the coordination of Francisco José do Nascimento Kronka, of the Forestry Institute, linked to the State Department of the Environment, and checked by the Geosciences Institute and the Agricultural Research Center of the State University of Campinas (Unicamp). The information on the basin of the Ribeira de Iguape – probably the last to enter into the SinBiota, since it has the largest remnants of the Atlantic rainforest in the reserves of Juréia-Itatins, Cardoso and Intervales, – are being done jointly with the environmental NGO named Socioambiental Institute. “If we had do it on our own, it would be slower and more costly.” says Vanderlei Perez Canhos, of the Food Engineering School of Unicamp, a sub coordinator of Biota-FAPESP.

The atlas only covers terra firma, for now. “As the Kronka’s team is also digitalizing the state’s continental shelf, and there are marine biology projects within the Biota-FAPESP project, in the end we shall have closeto 450 juxtaposed maps, including part of the sea shelf” reveals Joly.

The Paraíba valley
The system is fed above all by surveys and lists of species registered in research done before the Biota Program, as well as the initial results of the program itself. In the field studies, the almost 400 researchers involved fill in a form, standard for the collection of geo-reference data, with latitude and longitude measurements done through a GPS (Global Positioning System) device. The visualization of the map with all of the collected data up until the beginning of June unveils areas only slightly explored, such as the Paraíba valley, where relatively few specimens were collected. This confirmation turns the valley into fertile ground for field research, above all because it included parts of the Cerrado closer to the coast. “Not one part of the Cerrado the Paraíba valley is within one of the 23 conservation units” explains Joly. “One of the best preserved area belongs to the Brazilian Air Force and runs alongside the Tamoios highway.”

The SinBiota is of the State of São Paulo, but researchers from other states can contribute under one condition: the data has to be input through the standardized form. “The data will be welcome” the coordinator forwards. As a rule, the system respects information originally passed on. “The author of the registration form is the only person who can alter his data”, Joly clarifies. Any person, layman or researcher, can have access to the registration forms but not integrally: some data, such as the exact point of collection, are of restricted access and the list of species collected is only released after more profound studies or of the publication of the articles.

Besides being enriched by the direct supplying of data, the large virtual data bank will be able to count upon information from past collections of flora and fauna maintained by museums and herbariums of São Paulo. These collections will have a digital version so they can be integrated into the system. “Some have already reached a certain level of digitalization. Therefore, we will only be complementing the digitalization and connecting the collections between themselves”, Joly explains.

International data
To increase the coverage and to subsequently incorporate the most recent advances in information technology to biodiversity, the SinBiota is making strategic agreements with museums, herbariums and above all, with large data banks abroad. When everything is connected up, the information about the state will be accessible for these data banks which, on the other hand, will be available to the users of the system of São Paulo. Joly believes that within a few years it will be possible to see on the computer maps with rivers, vegetation cover, and the geographical distribution of any type of animal or vegetation already catalogued in any part of the world.

In this way, it will be easier and cheaper to search for the data that one might need. “Imagine the huge saving of time and money that this integration will provide. The Brazilian researcher will not have to fly to the United States to obtain information”, highlights Joly. And moreover, Internet 2 ,which will allow connections much faster than those of today, will guarantee a fast consultation.

Initially, in a project developed jointly with the Kansas University in the United States, the SinBiota will integrate itself into the Species Analyst, a world system that had already brought together 20 biological collections with close to 50 million registrations of the occurrences of animals, plants and micro organisms in North America and Europe. This is the first large step towards internationalizing the system.

In August, when he has completed his one-year training stage at the Kansas University in order to understand the connection technology for these collection systems into a one only data bank, the computer engineer Ricardo Scachetti Pereira will head for the recently created Reference and Environmental Information Center (Cria), a non-profit civil association (www.criabr.org.br) with its headquarters in the vicinity of Unicamp and which will administer the data and the Biota-FAPESP projects.

“One of my responsibilities will be to develop a similar system which, in the first phase, will integrate 12 biological collections of data in the State of São Paulo” elucidates Pereira. “We want to create tools for the Brazilian reality in the same way as other countries have done” says the sub-coordinator Canhos. As a matter of fact, Cria is the reference for another large data bank, that of Species 2000, coordinated by the University of Reading in England. The objective of this project, with which the Biota-FAPESP maintains a relationship, is to put together a catalogue with 1.8 million already described organisms throughout the world.

The Project
Environment Information System of the Biota-FAPESP Program (SinBiota); Modality Thematic project; Coordinator Professor Carlos Alfredo Joly – Unicamp; Investment R$ 1,074,782.00 and a further US$ 48,800.00

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