Easy access to updated and comprehensive Biodiversity information is fundamental for research, decision-making, policy advice and monitoring of the biodiversity status and the effectiveness of conservation measures. Biodiversity data and information are generated by many stakeholders. However, these data and information are not easily accessible mainly due to the lack of a common sharing platform, which results in either duplication of efforts or underutilization of the existing data. Cognizant of these issues on biodiversity data and information, the National Biodiversity Centre initiated the program on Biodiversity Information Management as early as 2003. However, due to other competing priorities as well as lack of advancement in information technology and staff, not much progress was made then. With the advancement of information technology and the potential it offered to address issues in managing biodiversity information as well as the increasing need for biodiversity data and information in the country, the National Biodiversity Centre developed a web-based biodiversity portal in 2008, with support from South-South Cooperation Project and strengthened the program on Biodiversity Information Management. The portal was subsequently upgraded to the status of a national biodiversity information clearing house in 2010. However, because of the vastness and variety of biodiversity data, it was not feasible for a single agency to collect as well as curate this vast data.
Thus, in 2013, a consortium with membership from all relevant biodiversity data generator and user stakeholders was formed, with Biodiversity Information Management Program of NBC as Secretariat to the Consortium. The initiative of the consortium was also to address the issue of duplicative efforts in developing and managing isolated information systems and databases.
The improved version of the Biodiversity Portal developed through funding support from RGoB, DANIDA (Bhutan Climate Summit project) and EU-SSP project was launched in December 2013. Basic capacity of the data curators in curating the data in the improved version of the portal was developed through funding support from DANIDA and EU-GCCA project from 2014 to 2016. From September 2014, the program also implemented a BTFEC funded project amounting to Nu. 9.576 million for a period of three years to document selected groups of invertebrates in the country and establish invertebrate reference
collections, in collaboration with the Naturalis Biodiversity Centre in the Netherlands, Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environmental Research (UWICER), Royal Society for Protection of Nature (RSPN), Sherubtse College, College of Natural Resources (CNR), and National Plant Protection Centre (NPPC).
Some of the other cross-cutting activities coordinated and implemented by the program over the years include the following:
- Preparation of a report and a National Information Sharing Mechanism on the implementation of the Global Plan of Action for the Conservation and Sustainable Utilization of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture in Bhutan funded through Regional FAO project (USD 14,000) from July 2010 to December 2011.
- Preparation of a National Action Plan on Biodiversity persistence and climate change for the Climate Summit for a Living Himalayas – Bhutan 2011, where four countries namely, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal agreed upon a regional ‘Framework of Cooperation’ aimed at building regional resilience to the negative impacts of climate change in the Himalayas.
- Preparation of the National Report on the State of Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture prepared for the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture to the FAO from 2015-2016.
- Formulation of the National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plan (NBSAP) 2014 through GEF-UNEP funded project amounting to USD 180,000 from 2014 to 2016.
- Serve as national clearing house/reference Centre for biodiversity information.
- Coordinate initiatives to increase biodiversity information of the country with improved access to it for research, decision-making, policy advice and monitoring of biodiversity conservation and effectiveness of conservation measures.
- Coordinate implementation and status reporting of obligations under national, regional and international conventions/treaties/protocols including NBSAP(s).
- Coordinate and facilitate development of biodiversity databases and online repository, publications and information products, including provision of ICT services of the centre.
Currently, the Biodiversity Information Management Program is managed by two regular technical staff, two support staff and one international volunteer. The web-based biodiversity portal (www.biodiversity.bt) acts as an official repository of information on Bhutan’s biodiversity, and currently has provisions to provide biodiversity information of the country through the following modules:
- Species page: Curated species information.
- Observation page: Citizen-science based species observation information.
- Documents page: All documents related to biodiversity of Bhutan.
- Map module: Biodiversity related data in the form of map.
- Datasets: All data tables and lists.
As a strategy to increase biodiversity data, the program collaborates with partner organizations such as College of Natural Resources, Sherubtse College, UWICER, NPPC, RSPN, WWF, etc., and coordinates implementation of joint- project for data generation and documentation of biodiversity, specifically of lesser known groups such as invertebrates and aquatic biodiversity. The collaborative activities till date have resulted in the following publications on lesser known invertebrates, namely, A Field Guide to the Common Bees and Wasps of Bhutan (2017); A Field Guide to the Common Lady Beetles of Bhutan (2017); A Field Guide to the Common Dragonflies and Damselflies of Bhutan (2017); A Field Guide to the Common Moths of Bhutan (2017) and A Field Guide to the Common Molluscs of Bhutan (2017) and more than 25 scientific papers were published in national and international journals. Additionally, several species new to science were also discovered including a new dragonfly species, Gyalsey Emerald Spreadwing (Megalestes gyalsey), named in honor of the Crown Prince of Bhutan, the Gyalsey Jigme Namgyel Wangchuck in 2017. Apart from strengthening and managing the portal and collaborative activities, the program also manages the national invertebrate specimen repository and the library.
Currently, the program has international collaborations with the Naturalis Biodiversity Center of the Netherlands for invertebrate diversity documentation and India Biodiversity Portal for technical support to the portal. Since June
2017, for a period of one year, the program is also implementing the World Bank (USD 50,000) and WWF (USD 36,000) supported projects to strengthen the features of the portal to incorporate aquatic biodiversity data and develop the capacity of the data curators.