The West African Plants Initiative: a model for need-driven specimen digitization

Empowering data users—rather than specimen holding institutions—to drive digitization of herbarium sheets

Data resources used via GBIF : 57 million species occurrences
Crepidomanes africanum
Crepidomanes africanum collected in Cameroon. Photo by Germinal ROUHAN / Vincent DEBLAUWE via Museum national d'Histoire naturelle, Paris (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

The global distributions of wealth and biodiversity, respectively, are uneven and often inversely proportional. Similarly, the availability of biodiversity data tends to be highest in the wealthiest but least biodiverse regions of the world.

This study presents the West African Plants (WAP) Initiative, exploring a general model of empowering users in countries who wish to have access to data to capture and mobilize it, rather than relying on institutions in other countries holding the collections.

By connecting motivated researchers across West Africa with herbaria in Europe and North America with a desire to have their collections digitized, WAP has enabled—at an average cost of $0.50 per sheet—the mobilization of more than 190,000 primary biodiversity records in 16 countries in the region. Not all of these have been shared through GBIF yet, but as a whole represent an increase in digital accessible knowledge of West African flora by more than 50 per cent.

The study further assessed 57 million GBIF-mediated records of plant specimens globally to calculate the proportion of records by country provided by institutions in other countries as a means for exploring the model of the initiative in different regions of the world.

Asase A, Sainge MN, Radji RA, Ugbogu OA and Peterson AT (2020) A new model for efficient, need‐driven progress in generating primary biodiversity information resources. Applications in Plant Sciences. Wiley 8(1). Available at: