[Taxacom] Chameleons, GBIF, and the Red List

Bob Mesibov mesibov at southcom.com.au
Mon Aug 25 04:21:40 CDT 2014


This will be my last post on this tired topic, but I cannot let 2 of your statements go unchallenged.

"But we taxonomists do a very bad job in creating such opportunities: This current discussion just confirms it. We complain about bad data - data we create and should create. At the same time we are not able to provide a reference list of all the species in the world. We are not able to provide a response to the need to build the bases for global biodiversity monitoring system as bases for biodiversity conservation. This goal would define the quality of the data we need, and will have to collect."

This is nonsense. Most of the occurrence data I've worked with was generated by non-taxonomists. The taxonomist's contribution was 'genus' and 'species', long after the sample data was written on a label, or entered in a museum database. The sample sat on a museum shelf for years, unidentified and unavailable for either taxonomic or conservation uses. When it was finally identified, the real data auditing began - of the *sample data*.

I also strongly disagree that a taxonomist's highest priority should be compiling data for bureaucrats and politicians to ignore. Land- and water-use decisions are made for reasons that have nothing to do with biodiversity values, and regardless of how much biodiversity data is available.

"Is this money that GBIF gets really that big, or rather a small fraction? It is rather the latter."

Can we please stick to dollars-for-effort? The biodiversity community has developed and maintained many high-quality online resources *for nothing* - gratis, voluntarily - and it will continue to do so to fill 'data gaps'. Donald Hobern's 'expert-managed silos' are the best available biodiversity data sources for their subjects of interest. Their dollar value is impossible to estimate because the labour and time that went into them isn't costed. In many cases the project needs to pay a small Web-hosting fee, but I'm not aware of any funding agency, anywhere, that is prepared to cover that cost, and only a few enlightened institutions will host such sites at their own expense.

Instead, ever since the long campaign for global databasing began, we have millions and millions poured into *mobilising* data, rather than *generating* it. The effort to mobilise data is richly rewarded. The effort to generate data (by taxonomists and field workers) gets a miniscule fraction of this. GBIF budgets thousands of E every year to enable its staff to travel to bioinformatics conferences. Where are the thousands of E to pay taxonomists and other field workers to travel to gather the specimens and data that GBIF will later publish?

In your words, 'to build the bases for global biodiversity monitoring system as bases for biodiversity conservation' we need to feed the literature and databases with fresh green grass. Instead, millions are spent shifting existing bales of hay around inside a barn. In my view, this is a massive distortion of priorities, and tinkering with GBIF isn't going to change that.
Dr Robert Mesibov
Honorary Research Associate
Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, and
School of Land and Food, University of Tasmania
Home contact:
PO Box 101, Penguin, Tasmania, Australia 7316
(03) 64371195; 61 3 64371195

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