Irish GBIF award winner uses statistics to measure sampling effort


A master’s student from Ireland helping to detect biases and identify gaps in biodiversity data has been selected as a winner of the GBIF Young Researchers Award.

Caoimhe Marshall of University College, Dublin (UCD) is one of the two 2014 winners of the €4,000 award, granted annually to graduate students demonstrating research innovation and originality, the potential for significant contributions to biodiversity science, and the creative use of data published through GBIF.

Marshall’s research project aims to validate a statistical method of estimating the relative amount of effort spent on recording species in different locations, based on data available through GBIF. This knowledge, when applied to large-scale biodiversity datasets, could help to distinguish between real trends in species distributions and biases in sampling efforts.

The project, which focuses on the recording of vascular plants, will also contribute to Ireland’s 2014-16 plant recording strategy, by identifying under-sampled areas for particular species groups, and guiding recording efforts in future.

The method of detecting patterns of sampling effort is based on the Good-Turing Estimator, which originated from the work of Alan Turing and I.J. Good to crack German codes during the Second World War.

Responding to the GBIF Science Committee’s selection, Caoimhe Marshall said: “I am delighted to have been selected as a recipient of the GBIF Young Researcher award. It is encouraging to know that the Science Committee shares my view of the potential significance of my project.”

Her supervisor on the project at UCD, Jon Yearsley, added: “Biodiversity data should inform us about the natural world rather than highlighting spots that are popular for people to visit and record. Controlling for recorder effort will play a large part in maximizing the useful information in GBIF data.”

The project is being carried out in collaboration with Ireland’s National Biodiversity Data Centre, host of the GBIF national node. The centre’s director and GBIF Node Manager Liam Lysaght commented: “The National Biodiversity Data Centre is excited with this collaboration as the study will allow us to target recording effort to address some of the spatial weaknesses in the National Plant Database.

“If successful, this process will be adopted by the Data Centre as the standard approach for identification and targeting of key knowledge gaps on species’ distributions in Ireland.”

The other 2014 winner of the GBIF Young Researchers Award is Vijay Barve of India.

For more information, please contact:

For GBIF Secretariat: Tim Hirsch

For University College Dublin: Jon Yearsley

For NBDC: Liam Lysaght

Photos: Dryas octopetala and Geranium sanguineum by Jon Yearsley

Publication date

  • July 15th, 2014

Last updated

  • October 23rd, 2015