Chronicle of Nature Books, a Hidden Environmental Data Treasure Trove
The strength is in the numbers. For many decades – in some cases a full century – scientists have been recording comparable biodiversity data in more than 150 protected areas across the former USSR. Almost all of these records have been stored on paper, thus hiding the bigger picture from sight.
The Chronicles of Nature program is a biodiversity monitoring endeavour exceptional in almost every aspect: It is comprehensive in nature, encompassing records of phenology, winter track route counts, bird route counts, small mammal trapping, insect monitoring and quite a few more specialized surveys. It spans over long time periods (almost a century), large areas (a continent), and it has been systematically collected by dedicated, full time scientific staff.
The data generated by the Chronicles of Nature program has been meticulously compiled as an annual report, on for each protected area. For a long time, this unique scientific contribution has then laid hidden in the archives. Most of the data are still sitting on bookshelves, inside the reserves and in ministries, waiting to be digitized and analysed by the scientific community. Over the past 8 years, we have now scratched the surface of mobilizing these data. To this end, we have been working with an amazing group of more than 300 colleagues in over 80 organizations from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan. Together, we have now brought together a first coherent set of long-term data on phenology (Scientific Data: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41597-020-0376-z, Zenodo: https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.1491223).
This has been a thrilling journey – and it is only a beginning. We are excited by the enthusiasm of the environmental science professionals who initiated this collaboration. They gave the world an opportunity to connect with the results of their life long work, which had remained mostly unknown to the international scientific community.
Sadly, in most of the participating countries, protected areas and their staff are currently facing tough challenges. We hope that the publication of these data will summon the interest of the international community, and focus attention on the global importance of these areas and the irreplaceable scientific work done by their staff. Should these time series break, there is no way to re-forge them.