Biodiversity and ecosystem research did already benefit at an early stage from the new opportunities provided by information and communication technology. Especially the possibility to build relational databases proved to be an important tool to capture biodiversity data and to organize information differently. This promoted in various sub-disciplines the development of new software packages to deploy the growing databases. A number of EU funded Networks of Excellence in these scientific areas explicitly addressed ICT developments and could build a more integrated European approach. The ENBI project, European Network for Biodiversity Information (www.enbi.info) designed an outline plan for the further integration of these different approaches within a proposed European Research Infrastructure.
Scientific networks push LifeWatch
In early 2005, Prof. Carlo Heip of the MARBEF network invited a number of scientific networks for a meeting in Amsterdam to consider an initiative in the framework of ESFRI, the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures .
The networks were:
Network of Excellence, Terrestrial Biodiversity – ALTER-Net
Network of Excellence, European Distributed Institute of Taxonomy – EDIT
Network of Excellence, Marine Biodiversity and Ecosystem Functioning – MarBEF
Network of Excellence, Marine Genomics Europe - MGE
Network of Excellence, Ocean Ecosystems Analysis EUR-OCEANS
Infrastructure network SYNTHESYS
Biological Collection Access Service for Europe – BioCASE
European Network for Biodiversity Information – ENBI
The joint meeting agreed on proposing a European research infrastructure since its sheer size with respect to costs, functionalities and user communities would require large-scale collaboration. It was concluded that implementation of LifeWatch is only possible through international cooperation. The initial support from a few countries resulted in the uptake of LifeWatch as priority in the first ESFRI Roadmap of 2006.
On request of the collaborating scientific networks, the University of Amsterdam prepared a proposal for a FP7 LifeWatch preparatory project, which was subsequently funded for three years (January 2008 – January 2011). 19 European countries expressed their interest in the prospects of LifeWatch. The preparations were directed at:
Elaborating the details of the construction plan (data resources, technical architecture, service organisation, legal structure, financial plan)
Securing sufficient (potential) national commitments to establish LifeWatch and to start the construction
The project resulted in a detailed construction plan and cost book. An initial group of countries signed a memorandum of Intent in order to establish a Stakeholders Board as provisional governing board. Five countries of these pledged advanced funding for a start-up phase towards the actual infrastructure construction.
LifeWatch was establish as a European Research Infrastructure Consortium (ERIC) by the European Union on 17 March 2017.