Biologists and computer scientists have appealed for more information on the world's biodiversity to be stored digitally so it may better be used to understand the impact of climate change on the Earth's flora and fauna.
A study, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), and conducted by biologists at the University of Reading and computer scientists at the University of Cardiff, has revealed large gaps in data available to the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) - the world's largest single data network which gives access to millions of current digitised biodiversity records.
The paper was published in the November 7 issue of the online, open-access journal PLoS ONE. The team, which included Dr Alastair Culham and Mr Chris Yesson from the University of Reading's School of Biological Sciences, used the Legume family as a test case to review the quality of this huge data set. Dr Culham said: 'GBIF provides a fantastic resource that may prove vital in understanding the impacts of global climate change at this critical time. However, the large gaps in data that exist in the GBIF network are a clarion call for the governments of the world's developed nations to invest more money to support institutions and scientists around the world in their quest to digitise, publish and upload more of the data presently hidden in museums.
We put particular emphasis on the quality of location information stored with each specimen record, and the breadth of coverage for known species. In our research we found that over 500 000 records for Legumes are available within the GBIF 'super database.''
Mr Yesson said: 'Although this seems at first glance to be a large dataset, our research revealed major gaps in the coverage of this data. Many Legume species, around 70%, have never been formally recorded in digital collections, or have too few good quality records to be useful. Also, many of the specimen records that are available online have issues that make the location information associated with these records unusable for many purposes. In many cases the most biologically diverse regions of the world have little or no data available online. A focussed effort on these areas will create a truly global resource that creates unparalleled opportunities for understanding the world's biodiversity.'
Article: Yesson C, Brewer PW, Sutton T, Caithness N, Pahwa JS, et al (2007) How Global Is the Global Biodiversity Information Facility? PLoS ONE 2 (11): e1124. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0001124.