[Taxacom] What can Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) do for you?

Bob Mesibov mesibov at southcom.com.au
Sun Oct 20 19:07:47 CDT 2013

Hi, Rod.

I understand Stephen's cautions, but I'm actually very impressed with your example, and yes, to my mind adding such links to GBIF would move it a long way towards being a 'meta' resource and away from... the problematic resource it is now.

Lyubo's and Mary's excellent posts should give you more ideas, but if possible please focus on the notion of GBIF as a research tool - not a source of answers to research questions, but a tool with which to begin or continue research.

Personally I like the idea of data archives to which scientific names, placenames, publications etc can be linked. It's a safe bet that in the future we'll have Google-like search tools that will index gigantic data archives the way billions of Web pages are indexed. At that point GBIF will be out of a job, and publication markup (except for explicit links) largely unnecessary.

I'll repeat here that imaginary example I sent you in an email. 'The names and places have been changed to protect the innocent,' but this is very close to a true story. The digital archive in the story was actually behind an IP wall and paywall and I was nominally charged several hundred dollars for 12 months' use of the data, but the fee was waived:

Most taxonomists and biogeographers will have examined specimen labels with simplified data. The label might say something like 'Pueblito (Provincia Pequeño), 14°45'S 60°25'W, 9.i.1998, J. Cardozo, pitfall, closed scrub, S147-26'. On enquiry you learn that the museum has more information in its database. The latitude and longitude are more exactly known, but back in 1998 the museum had a policy of only printing latitude and longitude to the nearest minute on specimen labels. The pitfall was opened on 9 January and emptied on 9 March; the two dates are in the database, but the museum's label template in 1998 only allowed for one date to be printed. So you expand the record by getting the additional position and date information from the museum database. Then you wonder whether the collection was part of a larger sampling, and you ask the museum staff if the samples came with a report when they were deposited. Yes, a printed copy of a project report was sent to the museum, and you find the copy in the museum's library. The report contains a great deal of information. It has maps marking the locations of pitfalls, Malaise traps and hand samplings on a base that shows contours and streamlines at 1:25000 scale. There are detailed descriptions of sampling methods and timing. There are photos representative of the habitats sampled. In the report, the 'closed scrub' of the specimen label is expanded into a structural and floristic description of the vegetation. There is an Appendix with a codebreaker for data items like 'S147-26', and summary tables not only of sampling data for all sites, but also numbers of specimens collected at each, arranged by taxon. You find the report's author with a Web search, and ask in an email whether there are digital versions (spreadsheets or CSVs) of the data in the Appendix. Yes, replies the author, with even more data, because the tables had to be condensed for printing. There are also digital images of every individual sampling site. All the project data and the summary report are in a digital archive. Would you like a copy of the archive? You download the archive from a large-file service as a personal gift from the author. You are *very lucky*, because the author also says 'Do what you like with the data'.
Dr Robert Mesibov
Honorary Research Associate
Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, and
School of Agricultural Science, University of Tasmania
Home contact:
PO Box 101, Penguin, Tasmania, Australia 7316
(03) 64371195; 61 3 64371195

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