Presentation by Liliana Ballesteros-Mejia at the 2013 GBIF Science Symposium. Title: Online solutions and the ‘Wallacean shortfall’: What does GBIF contribute to our knowledge of species’ ranges?
Detailed knowledge of species distributions is fundamental to research in macroecology, biogeography, as well as biodiversity conservation. However, for most organisms, particularly invertebrates, such information is not available despite manifold data in natural history collections. Many online applications have been devised recently to facilitate access to and processing of such data. The Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) is currently the largest databank for digitized data from museum collections. It is therefore a key system to help in closing the aforementioned knowledge gap. The study presented used European hawkmoths (Lepidoptera, family Sphingidae) as a model taxon to investigate the information content of GBIF-mediated data, compared with an independent compilation of distributional data from natural history collections and other sources. The research team found that GBIF provided many more distribution records compared to independent compilation efforts, but contributed less information on range filling, range extent and climatic niches of species. Although GBIF contributed relevant additional information, it is not yet an alternative to manual compilation and databasing of distributional records from collections and literature sources, at least in lesser-known taxa such as invertebrates. The presenter discusses possible reasons for the findings, which may help in shaping GBIF strategies for providing more informative data.