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.

What is LIFEPLAN all about?

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!

The overall sampling scheme

In LIFEPLAN, we use five sampling methods (left). Cyclone sampling collects fungal spores, Malaise trapping collects insects and soil sampling collects soil which we sample for fungal DNA. Camera trapping captures images of mostly mammals and birds, and audio recording captures bird and bat sound.

The LIFEPLAN sampling scheme contains 83 global locations, 44 national locations (19 in the Nordic countries and 25 in Madagascar, and two sets (in Sweden and in Madagascar) of hierarchical designs that cover the scales from 0.5 to 500 km. The hierarchical level and Madagascar national locations will be sampled by LIFEPLAN staff and the Madagascar Biodiversity Center.

The only difference between the global and national sampling schemes is that at the global scale, we will also explore the impacts of urbanization. Hence, for each of the 83 locations spread across the world, we switch between an urban and a natural location on a yearly basis, whereas at the national level, locations remain fixed.

How “urban” the urban site should be, and how “natural” the natural site should remain depends on the types of environments available in the particular area. In some places, the urban location can mean the neighborhood of a village of 100 inhabitants. What matters is that the two sites within the urban-natural site pair differ substantially in their level of naturalness, that they are located some 20-50 km from each other, and that in terms of local conditions, they resemble each other as much as possible beyond their respective level of naturalness.

What do you commit to?

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
What will it cost?

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