Science Review demonstrates the power of free & open biodiversity data for all

Annual publication highlights some key research uses-and reuses—of data from the GBIF network during the previous year

Cribraria purpurea, observed in Los Reyes, Michoacán, Mexico. Photo 2019 Ricardo Arredondo via iNaturalist Research-grade Observations, licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0

Adapted from the preface of the GBIF 2019 Science Review

By Joe Miller, GBIF Executive Secretary

GBIF-mediated data is everyone’s data. It represents the accumulation of efforts—from small university collections to large, globally recognized museum research institutions, from citizen scientist initiatives run on smartphone to the latest metagenomic studies. The power of these efforts is compounded when data is brought together to be free and open for all to use.

The GBIF 2019 Science Review demonstrates some of the power of a community working together. Take, for example, a research project by Watcharamongkoi et al. at the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom and funded by the Thailand government studied C₄ photosynthesis evolution. They used nearly 15 million occurrence records from the GBIF network to investigate potential geographic boundary limits for C₄ photosynthetic plants. The impressive aspect is that these records came from 1,453 individual datasets, not just from large European and North American herbaria, but also from institutions in Benin, Colombia, Brazil, Estonia, Australia and Japan. Global studies of this kind would not be possible without a GBIF.

This year’s Review also highlights several key studies with broad societal implications that relied on similar uses of data from thousands of sources. Possibly the most important link revealed through our literature tracking programme this year is the role that GBIF-mediated data in the biodiversity-related assessments of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report. The report rightfully received a lot of media publicity for its high-profile call to action, though few will have known at the time that the report relies heavily on work (Warren et al. (2018)) based directly on the analysis of 385 million occurrences from more than 5,400 datasets from the GBIF network.

These global analyses will become more common with increasing amounts of data available through GBIF. Through our work to improve the culture and practice of research data citation, we aim to give credit to the organizations that share data and the professionals who perform the work. We are deeply grateful for all that you do.