GBIF releases new guide for publication of data on sensitive species

Updated publication outlines best practice for generalizing and sharing records of rare, endangered and commercially valuable species freely and safely

Banksia cuneata, Western Australia, listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Global Red List of Species. Photo 2019 Jenny Donald via iNaturalist Research-grade Observations, licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0.

GBIF has today released a new publication designed to offer guidance on how to make occurrence data about rare, endangered and commercially valuable species as available as possible and as protected as necessary.

In Current Best Practices for Generalizing Sensitive Species Occurrence Data, Australian botanist and biodiversity informatics expert Arthur D. Chapman offers a comprehensive update of the guide he co-authored in 2008. The "sensitive species guide" also represents the first publication finalized from a series of digital-first documentation coordinated by the GBIF Secretariat and commissioned through VertNet.

The GBIF community has long sought to find an ethical balance between free and open access to biodiversity data serving science and society and the risk of sharing too much specific information about "sensitive" taxa—those organisms whose small, threatened or economically profitable populations may be jeopardized by their locations being more widely known.

"I'm pleased with the chance to refresh the documentation on current best practices," said Chapman. "The new publication incorporates the collective experience from institutions that have implemented policies over the past decade or more. My hope is that it will help not only data publishers, but also data users, who can better appreciate the impact of using records generalized to protect sensitive species and grasp the meaning of generalization at different precisions."

"Managing data on sensitive species requires trust, collaboration and a shared understanding of what constitutes ethical behaviour," said Laura Russell, programme officer for participation and engagement at the GBIF Secretariat. "The updated guide offers an important present-day snapshot of how we can share data on sensitive taxa as responsibly as possible and increase our understanding of them while protecting them from harm."

Forthcoming digital-first titles include a guide to publishing DNA-derived occurrences, a Spanish-language guide to using OpenRefine and a trio of georeferencing titles.