While humanity is planning for conquering other planets, we still know little about how life is structured across our own. This is a chilling state of affairs. Accounting for biodiversity patterns is the basis for any sustainable management of natural resources in the face of ongoing global change. Our current ignorance concerns not only global species richness, but also how these species are structured into communities and how they interact with each other. Current syntheses have typically been compiled from mixed data points gathered by different approaches. Our current understanding of biodiversity tends to derive from studies examining a fraction of the overall diversity. What we think we know about biodiversity is oftentimes based on the least diverse parts of biological life.

There are two main reasons why we understand biodiversity and its drivers so poorly. First, we lack the relevant data, since for the vast majority of species we have either no data or very sporadic data. Second, the processes underlying biodiversity dynamics are complex, and we lack the tools for converting the data that we have into a true understanding of the processes behind them.

Through LIFEPLAN, we will overcome both hurdles. We bring together the key expertise needed to generate and interpret Big Ecological Data for a global synthesis of biotic patterning across our planet uniting community ecology, methods for automated species recognition, and Bayesian statistics for immense data.

As a basis for the whole LIFEPLAN venture, we will generate a well-standardized global data for a substantial proportion of all species. Such standardization is achieved through semi-automated methods, producing comparable data independent of the exact expertise of the person or team conducting the sampling. Based on a recent revolution in sampling methodology, such a sampling design is now finally achievable. Please join us in implementing it around the globe!

Lifeplan - Current state of biodiversity knowledge in animals, plants and fungi. Charts of expected numbers of species found in LIFEPLAN.

  • You will be part of a major endeavor of mapping global biodiversity using frontline methods for both sampling and analyzing the data.
  • You will become a co-author of high-impact publications describing global biodiversity. We expect these papers to change modern community ecology.
  • You will get unprecedented data on the biodiversity found from your study site, as a time-series spanning six years
  • In addition to collecting samples for LIFEPLAN, you may conduct sampling for your own research.
  • LIFEPLAN is committed to Access and Benefit-sharing, and we are planning live and virtual workshops on both sampling and data analysis methods, as well as a visitor program for our sampling partners. We welcome your input on what would be valuable to you.

To find out what we expect from those joining, please take a look at our preliminary sampling instructions.

Sampling effort (preliminary plan, to be finalized together with participants):

  • Six years from September 2020 to end of 2025
  • Setup: Selecting natural and urban locations and setting up a 100metre x 100metre plot in one of these. Installing Malaise trap, cyclone sampler, about 5 cameras and about 5 audio samplers (attached to trees).
  • Yearly: moving all sampling equipment from natural to urban location or vice versa
  • Eight times a year during growing season: taking eight soil samples and eight root samples
  • Weekly: changing batteries on all devices (Cyclone sampler runs on car battery), changing sampling tubes on cyclone sampler and Malaise trap, changing memory cards on audio samplers and cameras. Logging and labelling samples.
  • At least twice a year: shipping samples to us

We encourage you to register as soon as possible, thereby making sure that we can consider you when selecting the sites to be included. We aim to make the first selection of the sites during January 2020. The project will pick up speed during the spring of 2020, as we enter the set-up phase (including the preparation of collaboration agreements, the shipping of equipment and the implementation of test sampling). The main sampling we expect to start in September 2020.

Sign up here

Once you have expressed your interest in contributing, we will select a network of 100 sampling locations across the globe. The selection criteria will be the level of commitment of the team to conduct the sampling, and the contribution of the proposed sampling location to the global coverage of the network.

In April 2020, will start drawing up collaboration contracts with the selected teams. The contract will specify responsibilities and ownership for both parties. We will also set up a closed discussion forum to finalise a sampling plan that is feasible for everyone. At the same time we will be testing the sampling design in a few pilot teams. By June 2020, the sampling design should be finalised. The teams selected will then receive the sampling package including all the equipment shown in Figure 2. We plan to begin sampling in earnest in September 2020 at the earliest, depending on equipment delivery timetables.

As an important dimension, our global study is designed to quantify how anthropogenic impacts change patterns of biodiversity across taxa: at every site, we will include two localities, out of which one will be more natural (N) and the other one more urban (U). Here, urban is defined within the context of the region, with pristine being a site with vegetation akin to the successional climax of the region, and urban being an area of high population density by the regional standards. These two localities are ideally some 20-50 km from each other, and represent similar environmental conditions e.g. in terms of altitude and climate. In other words, each team signing up for the study should be prepared to move between two sites, or team up with another group at a complementary site. To achieve equal sampling coverage of the natural and urban site without doubling the resources needed, sites will be sampled in a six-year sequence of N-U-N-U-N-U for half of the sites and U-N-U-N-U-N for the other half of the sites. Within each biome, individual sites will be randomly allocated to start either from natural or from the urban environment. We note that the first year of sampling will include the set-up and testing phase, so we expect that the systematically collected global data will cover a five year period.

The sampling package includes basically everything needed for sampling (a cyclone sampler, a Malaise trap, six camera-traps, ten audio-recorders, hard drives for data storage, consumables related to sampling), except a car battery (for the cyclone sampler) which you need to purchase yourself. The sampling devices are easy to run and the most important part is your long-term commitment. Since we explicitly aim to generate continuous time series spanning over six years, you need a team prepared to work on the site on a regular basis.

With all of the methods, we hope to perform basically continuous sampling over the entire year. However, we understand that this will not be possible in all locations, e.g. due to some research stations being closed for part of the year.

Overall, we expect that, for each of the five methods, after the initial setup, you would need to invest on average ca. 2 hours of working time per week (e.g. changing the Eppendorf vial for the cyclone sampler; emptying the Malaise trap; downloading audio data from the recorders; changing and recharging batteries; etc.), plus the time potentially needed to reach the sampling spots. The detailed procedures of sampling will be developed jointly with those participating in the sampling, thereby ensuring that all participating teams will be able to follow them.

To link biodiversity structure to key metrics of ecosystem functioning, the teams will conduct a series of rapid ecosystem function assessments, measuring a set of ecosystem processes by a simple protocol adapted to any biome. This sampling will entail three sampling events per year, calling for an additional investment of ca. one person-week per site.

We will take care of all sample processing, including DNA extraction, sequencing, image and sound analysis and taxonomic placement of the data. You will co-author the manuscripts based on the data that you collected. The first publications will describe global patterns and processes in biodiversity across taxa, targeted at high-level journals. Your comments and edits to the manuscript will of course be most welcome. All data will be published together with the papers. You will also gain access to all taxonomically annotated data from your own samples, for any use you may have for them.

There are two ways to join LIFEPLAN.

Option 1: Among the teams signing up for the project, we will select 100 teams. For these 100 teams, we will cover all the expenses related to the sampling equipment shown in Fig. 2, as well as the shipping and  processing of samples (e.g. DNA sequencing), as well as all costs related to data analysis and publishing.  What we ask from you is that you cover the costs for your own labor and help us secure the relevant national permits. You need to commit to running the sampling for the full duration of the project. These 100 teams will be selected so that we prioritize teams among countries/organizations with limited funding possibilities, teams showing high level of commitment for conducting the sampling, and locations that contribute to our aim of having global sampling coverage (Fig. 2).

Option 2: You may also opt to join as a self-sponsored partner, meaning that you will cover the marginal cost of adding one more sampling site to the LIFEPLAN project, in addition to the 100 sites for which we have secured funding. This involves the cost of the sampling equipment, costs associated with shipping the equipment and the samples, and costs associated with DNA sequencing costs. These costs are estimated to be 30,000€ per location for the entire six year period, so on average 5,000€ per year. You will cover your share by paying bills related to equipment, DNA sequencing, etc. Naturally, you will also need to commit to the same actions as those taking part through Option 1.

While registering as a project participant, you will be given the choice between

  1. participating only if selected for Option 1,
  2. participating under Option 2,
  3. preferring  Option 1, but if not selected for that, asking us to contact you again to examine Option 2.

Pilot papers showing proof of concept

Abrego, N., Norros, V., Halme, P., Somervuo, P., Ali‐Kovero, H., & Ovaskainen, O. (2018). Give me a sample of air and I will tell which species are found from your region: Molecular identification of fungi from airborne spore samples. Molecular Ecology Resources18(3), 511-524. https://doi.org/10.1111/1755-0998.12755

Ovaskainen, O., de Camargo, U., & Somervuo, P. (2018). Animal Sound Identifier (ASI): software for automated identification of vocal animals. Ecology Letters21(8), 1244-1254. https://doi.org/10.1111/ele.13092

de Camargo, U., Roslin, T., & Ovaskainen, O. (2019). Spatio‐temporal scaling of biodiversity in acoustic tropical bird communities. Ecography, in press. https://doi.org/10.1111/ecog.04544