(Bio)hacking in Romania: towards a better understanding of biological interactions

Authors: Lien Reyserhove, Sofie Meeus, Quentin Groom

Between 7 and 11 March, the COST Action Alien-CSI organised their "Biohackathon". This took place in Constanta, Romania, and brought together profiles of several European nationalities and backgrounds. Forces were combined in different sub-projects, with some common denominators: citizen science, alien species and the interactions between species.

Alien-CSI: where citizen science and alien species meet
Alien-CSI brings together two worlds: that of citizen science and that of invasion biology. Alien species are on the rise worldwide. To control their spread, it is essential to understand the mechanisms by which these species establish themselves and how they interact with local, native fauna and flora. One way to do this is through citizen science. With the increase in smartphone applications and social media, citizen scientists are finding it increasingly easy to make and share observations of biodiversity. This offers new opportunities for research and the management of these species.

Open science as a starting point
A biohackathon consists of practical sessions where people collect, discuss and implement ideas and projects during intensive coding sessions. The following topics were covered:
• developing computer vision tools to identify introduced "sessile benthic invertebrates" (i.e. animals on the seabed that do not move), together with the interaction with their "basibionts" (i.e. animals to which the above-mentioned animals attach themselves).
• mapping the interactions between the alien Mexican grass-carrying wasp and the plants it visits
• visualising the interactions between the invasive Asian hornet and the native fauna and flora
• collecting data on interactions between native species and the invasive green iguana on the Cayman Islands

This biohackathon started from Open Science principles. The data was obtained via various open data platforms such as iNaturalist, GBIF and GloBI. The code is shared via GitHub. This ensures transparency, facilitates and stimulates cooperation between researchers and creates more visibility.