TETTRIS – a new vision for European taxonomy
Transforming European Taxonomy through Training, Research, and Innovations (TETTRIs), is a Horizon Europe project advancing the field of taxonomy and beyond, with a consortium comprised of 17 institutions from 13 European countries, including research institutions (such as natural history and natural science museums, and botanical gardens) and other biodiversity-related organizations (such as Catalogue of Life, and European Citizen Science Association). TETTRIs was awarded ~€6 million from Horizon Europe’s Cluster 6 call and runs for 42 months, starting in December 2022. We spoke to Ana Casino, Executive Director of CETAF (Consortium of European Taxonomic Facilities), and Project Technical Coordinator of TETTRIs, to learn more about the TETTRIs vision for taxonomy, the role of citizen science, and the collaboration with Catalyze for the development of the proposal.
TETTRIs – establishing a vision for a sustainable future
There is a clear need for the role of taxonomists to better understand biodiversity decline, its main direct drivers, and their interrelations. Their specialised expertise is increasingly demanded by decision-makers at regional to international levels to address biodiversity-related issues, especially near biodiversity hotspots and protected areas. TETTRIs aims for a transformative change in the field of taxonomy. The project will build and sustain taxonomic research capacity by increasing available knowledge with new taxonomists, while in parallel developing systems for improved participation of citizen scientists in knowledge creation.
Ana comments on the project’s significance: “TETTRIs is a turning point for the taxonomy community gathered around CETAF, the unique association in Europe focused on taxonomy and systematics. It is the first time that we have coordinated a proposal in response to a Horizon programme together, as a community, tackling one of the major issues we need to address that is the decline of expert taxonomists. It’s certainly going to be a massive challenge – and something totally different, but I believe in and trust the community behind the project. I am excited and very proud. We all should be proud.”
Ambitious plans for advancing taxonomy and beyond
TETTRIs is a crucial building block for the future of taxonomy, offering a roadmap for its transformation and ensuring sustainability for the future. The project will implement several technical- and systems-innovations, advancing the field by drastically improving the accessibility of taxonomic expertise and knowledge, developing training frameworks to increase professional and non-professional taxonomic expertise, and developing an action plan with academic and non-academic stakeholders.
Ana emphasises, “We aim for taxonomy to be recognized in its full potential. Taxonomy is a fundamental science to preserve biodiversity. TETTRIs must be not only a name or an objective of the taxonomic scientific community, but a cornerstone for the entire natural science, biodiversity, and environmental community at large. Who can use taxonomic data, who can benefit from the taxonomic research, who can be participating with us in the creation of knowledge – doing taxonomy together is what we aim to achieve with TETTRIs.”
Ana adds, “Climate change cannot be tackled without being aware of the biodiversity loss crisis. So everything is interrelated. At the very end, we are the basis. Without reliable taxonomic data, you cannot deal with this crisis effectively.”
Recognizing the value of taxonomy
The project aims not only to make taxonomic expertise more accessible for decision makers, and wider ecosystem or stakeholders in biodiversity and environment, but for the full value of taxonomy to be recognized.
Ana explains, “Everyone understands describing a species is fundamental, but for biodiversity and ecology at large, sometimes it is believed that if you have the Apps, the tools, the mechanisms, you can make an observation in the field and that’s it. But on top of that work you also need the expertise of taxonomic scientists to tell you if your understanding is correct, that such species has been there for years, decades, centuries, that it needs to be preserved, or that it is essential because it is considered threatened and actions to ensure its conservation are critical and urgent. On the contrary, it might be invasive and harmful for biodiversity.
“These kind of things are beyond mere observation and identification of the species and they need to be examined by experts to understand the role of a species in the ecosystem. It’s not only other scientists that may benefit from that knowledge, it’s the professionals, the citizen scientists, and importantly, the policymakers. They need reliable taxonomic data and trustworthy sources of information. TETTRIs is a project that intends to transfer knowledge to a very large community of actors.”
Focuses on education and attracting talent
As Ana points out, the number of taxonomists has been dramatically decreasing, with some groups threatened with extinction. The TETTRIs consortium is committed to creating the tools and the mechanisms for the people to better understand its importance and thus, support them. This includes plans for education and new opportunities to work in taxonomy.
“Through this project, we think that people will start to understand that taxonomy is a very nice discipline to be working in, that new generations might be attracted to become taxonomists, and that we will be working hard towards the creation of new jobs. All together, we can do a lot of very impactful things.”
A large role for citizens in the project
Citizen involvement plays a major role in TETTRIs, 30% of the total project budget is to be dedicated to projects implemented in the field. This part of the project aims to raise awareness of the value of taxonomy within and beyond the scientific community and attract new taxonomists. Consortium partners, including the European Citizen Science Association, will play an important role in this part of the project.
Ana explains, “Taxonomy professionals need to be connected with, for example, rangers, people working in protected areas, volunteers engaged in citizen scientist projects. People who might not be scientists as such, but are very much involved and committed to preventing biodiversity loss. One third of the budget – which is really a lot, €1.8 Million – will be transferred to test and validate how we envisage these objectives can be achieved. This entails working with citizens who really know their surrounding ecosystem and may implement more efficiently the developments made under TETTRIs.
“It is the new people who are engaged and involved in doing things for preserving nature that spread the voice. By becoming an actor, we expect that citizen scientists will also become a channel to increase that awareness. Because we by ourselves can do a lot, but we need the others as well. This is instrumental to the success of the project.”
Bringing together a large consortium and enlisting the support of Catalyze
The development of the TETTRIs proposal represented a major challenge and a significant endeavour for the TETTRIs partners. Ana explains how the consortium agreed to take on external support, which led to them selecting Catalyze:
“As I mentioned, this is the first time our CETAF community has entered into such a collaboration. We committed to make a proposal from our shared perspective as a scientific community around taxonomy, not from the perspective of a single member or an institutions individual approach. We asked ourselves, how could we do that, and we concluded that the external point-of-view was very important.
“We searched for somebody that could understand the discipline and had certain experience in the combined biodiversity and environmental sector, and that led us to Catalyze. We had a first a meeting to really see that they understood what we aim to achieve. And that was very successful.”
On the collaboration and development of TETTRIs
Ana describes how Catalyze’s support helped to align the various ideas from the consortium and enhanced aspects such as innovation and project impact.
“We had a lot of support from Catalyze in the sense of steering us away from thinking in terms of a traditional research activity – like we are all used to – but to say, we need to do innovation, we must create impact, how will we achieve this? Relevant questions that you may ask yourself within the community, but when those came from Catalyze that made everyone become much more engaged in the topic.
“Catalyze’s support helped us to identify how all our ideas for the project fitted together, and could be merged towards a meaningful proposal. I think the whole TETTRIs consortium is aware that Catalyze’s support was instrumental to produce a successful proposal. So I think everyone was delighted with the effectiveness of the collaboration.”