The last week of September was lighted up by the 3-days training school on “Assessing multi-taxon diversity in forest ecosystems” held in the beautiful city of Arezzo. As a newbie PhD candidate, I thought it was the right start for my (probably long) path into understanding and hopefully surviving the daily problems of managing heterogeneous data. The training school was overall focused on bridging the gap between theory and practice by discussing the statistical problems when approaching multi-taxon data and giving practical tools to manage this kind of data when dealing with biodiversity observations.
The first day started off with a bang. All the self-assurance I slowly built up about diversity indices was wiped away thanks to the help of trainer Sara Franceschi (University of Siena, Italy). The lesson started with a critical review of diversity indices and their estimation, being followed by explanations on sampling methods, ecological diversity ordering and species accumulation curves. It also highlighted common problems and mistakes when managing diversity indices. I feel that usually the problem with university lessons is that they skip the most interesting part of these topics, leaving behind a lot of information that could be useful for someone that would probably use these tools on a regular basis. This lesson helped me to have a deeper understanding of what I compute regularly, and now that I know what I’m doing I’m sure it will be easier to manage certain problems and I will be less confused about results (or at least I hope so).
Not being fully recovered from the mind-blowing review that took place during the first day, it was time to jump into reality. The second day was mostly focused on practicing the management of multi-taxon diversity data. Firstly, trainer Rafael B. de Andrade (University of Maryland, USA) put a lot of effort into teaching us how to properly build an ideal database for multiple taxonomic groups. I found this a highly important topic. I suddenly thought about my thesis script in R and how it would be vitally important for it to be understood by other people, even after years. I thought about how messy it was and that from that point on I should consider seriously Rafael suggestions. I really appreciated the effort put into the practical session, it was clear and straightforward.
After a lunch break with a stunning view on Arezzo, it was time for another session of practical applications and examples. Trainer Yoan Pallet (INRAE, France) led a very interesting discussion on the assessment of multi-taxon diversity using observational data. Yoan also presented “the cookbook for a good analysis” which outlined how every single part should be considered when working on data. I was surprised of how clear these topics are when investigating each problem step by step, especially with the help of trainers who have worked on the subject for a lot of years. The presentation was followed by several examples of analyses and an interactive talk on how we would process certain kinds of data.
The last lesson of the day was focused on upscaling diversity measurements through remotely sensed information. Trainer Samuel Alleaume (INRAE, France) showed us the basics behind remote sensing and its applications on several habitats. Through a critical review, the lesson highlighted which Essential Biodiversity Variables (EBV) are suitable for satellite monitoring and the estimation of them for each habitat type. I wish I knew before how many solutions can be pursued through remote sensing at different scales and through different instruments, especially through the joint use of remote sensing combined with field surveys.
As we approached Camaldoli monastery in the hearth of Foreste Casentinesi National Park, the third day of the training school began. We were welcomed by notably large silver firs and UNESCO heritage old beech forests, but also by a lot of interesting stories and information about the monastery and the current and past management of the surroundings. We were taught about the importance of the National Park and the history of its territory across several centuries. It represents a unique case of heterogeneous management caused by different credos of friar orders. Even if it does sound hard to understand, the result is a pattern of different forest stands, each one with its own unique features that contribute to make this place a vital shelter for diversity. As such, the National Park hosted several LIFE projects across the years. Matteo Ruocco and Serena Corezzola (DREAM) told us about the main projects performed within the Park and led us to the field to have a practical session of microhabitat identification among the misty beech forest. As the afternoon went by, I really appreciated the effort put into the field work and the interesting topics that were discussed along the way.
After 3 days of immersive training, I put inside my luggage not only a lot of notes and notions, but also some crucial opinions and recommendations that could help me in the next years. Now I can see that what I have learned along the years is just the tip of an iceberg which must be faced when dealing with an important subject as biodiversity.
Text by: Lorenzo Balducci
Photos by: Francesco Chianucci and Silvia Cannucci