curating global ecology through big data

Bianca Greeff, Graduate Assistant.

Ecologists seek to answer the big questions about how the world is changing, and how species and ecosystems are responding to those changes. To answer these questions, a new network of analysis is needed. Community-curated data sources can provide new insight on how systems are have changed in the past and how they are changing now.

Jack Williams, professor of Geography at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, will show how two community curated data sources are bringing reliable, big data to bear on the challenges of a changing world at the GCSC Seminar Series on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 4-5 p.m. in 210 ASB.

Jack Williams, used with permission.

According to Williams, four V’s (volume, variety, velocity, and veracity) characterize ecological big data. Volume refers to the size of data, variety is the heterogeneity – diverse nature – of data types and measurements, velocity is the rate data needs to be generated or analyzed at, and veracity is the potential uncertainties.

Community-curated data sources have been developed to enable global-scale science. These data networks are also changing the way data is analyzed.

“The standard has been to run ecosystem models and analyze data somewhat independently of each other,” Williams said. “But now we have the opportunity to do more simulations where the data doesn’t constrain the simulations and improve the parameterization and forecast.”

Multiple groups have begun building databases that bring the data and paleoecological records from multiple networks to larger scales. These data sets can be applied to testing and improving the predictability of ecosystem models.

Williams will structure his talk around two different data networks—Neotoma and PalEON. Neotoma gathers large amounts of records from around the world and assembles it into one common resource that is publically available. PalEON is an example of one type of research that can be done with this kind of global platform for ecological and paleoecological research.

“Neotoma and PalEON are part of a broader set of efforts to gather many different kinds of ecological data into extended observational networks,” Williams explained. “We can now look at ecological dynamics at long timescales and at large spatial scales.”

Williams studies species’ responses to climate change. By using the last 2,000 years as a model, he can look at how species have migrated or changed in past climate. His work with PalEON is interested in using ecosystem models to forecast and predict species responses to climate change at decadal and centennial time scales.

“An interesting initial finding is that, as a result of climate change and human land use over the last century, the climatic niches of trees have changed,” explained Williams. “A lot of our predictive models use modern climates and modern tree species distribution as the basis of our predictions of forest responses to current and future climate change. Seeing how niches have changed suggests there is perhaps there is some disequilibrium with current climate change.”

To learn more about ecological big data, attend William’s seminar, “Achieving global ecology via dispersed community-curated data resources: Neotoma and PalEON” on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 4-5 pm in 210 ASB.

 

Cover Photo by geralt via pixabay. CC0.


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