GBIF Ebbe Nielsen Challenge to spark innovation in open-access biodiversity informatics

The GBIF Secretariat has launched the inaugural GBIF Ebbe Nielsen Challenge, hoping to inspire innovative applications of open-access biodiversity data by scientists, informaticians, data modelers, cartographers and other experts.

The GBIF Secretariat has launched the inaugural GBIF Ebbe Nielsen Challenge, hoping to inspire innovative applications of open-access biodiversity data by scientists, informaticians, data modelers, cartographers and other experts.


For the past 12 years, GBIF has awarded the Ebbe Nielsen Prize to recognize outstanding contributions to biodiversity informatics while honouring the legacy of Ebbe Nielsen, one of the principal founders of GBIF, who tragically died just before it came into being.

The Science Committee, working with the Secretariat, has revamped the award for 2015 as the GBIF Ebbe Nielsen Challenge. This open incentive competition seeks to encourage innovative uses of the more than half a billion species occurrence records mobilized through GBIF’s international network. These creative applications of GBIF-mediated data may come in any form and variety—from new analytical research and richer policy-relevant visualizations to improvements to processes around data digitization, quality and access—or something else entirely.

As a simple point of departure, participants may wish to review the visual analyses of trends in mobilizing species occurrence data at global and national scales recently unveiled on Challenge submissions may build on such creations or propose other uses and extensions that make GBIF-mediated data even more useful to researchers, policymakers, educators, students and citizens.

A jury composed of experts from the biodiversity informatics community will judge the Round One entries collected through this ChallengePost website on their innovation, functionality and applicability, before selecting three to six finalists to compete for a €20,000 First Prize later in 2015.

Registration is now open

The GBIF Ebbe Nielsen Challenge site on ChallengePost is now live, and those interested in the Challenge are encouraged to sign up so that they receive alerts, updates, and other communications. The ChallengePost framework will also enable people to find and communicate with potential partners about collaborating on submissions, which are due on Monday, 2 March 2015.

“The range of potential applications is vast and extends well beyond biodiversity conservation”, says Donald Hobern, executive secretary of the GBIF Secretariat. “GBIF-mediated data can serve knowledge across disciplines, as we know from the research presented by speakers at GBIF’s recent Public Symposium in New Delhi and recent peer-reviewed articles on Ebola host animals, invasive alien species, long-term climate dynamics, drug discovery, valuation of wild foods as an ecosystem service, and bio-acoustical sampling.”

Participants may find inspiration in the uses of GBIF-mediated data described in the Science Review. This annual publication compiles research relating to a wide range of policy areas and disciplines that includes invasive alien species; impacts of climate change; species conservation and protected areas; biodiversity and human health; food, farming and biofuels; ecosystem services; and ecology, biogeography and evolutionary studies. Examples of potential areas of investigation—not intended as either prescriptive or exhaustive—include:

Country-level snapshot

Given that nearly 200 governments have committed to specific targets for reducing loss of the world’s biodiversity, how can the data available through GBIF help decision-makers and citizens best monitor progress? Developing national species lists? Tracking invasive alien species? Visualizing biodiversity in protected areas? Other means not yet devised?

Data quality

Biodiversity data is frequently messy, and GBIF spends considerable resources cleaning data. How can we measure data quality? What methods could automatically determine whether a particular dataset is fit for purpose?

Citizen-science mash-ups

Several prominent citizen scientist networks—eBird, iNaturalist, national observer networks in Sweden, Finland and Australia, among others—provide an increasing proportion of species data from many parts of the world. How can such data and those already available through be combined with other sources like social media to enhance our collective knowledge and understanding of biodiversity?

Layers currently displays occurrence data for organisms, typically from field observations or museum records. How do we enhance these data through the display of other types or layers of information? How can we combine species occurrence data with socioeconomic, environmental and cultural data to increase understanding of cross-domain issues?

Mind the gap

Some GBIF-mediated data are incomplete. How can the GBIF community best discover and identify gaps or prioritize which ones to address first?

Enriching data display

GBIF is now starting to see data sets with large numbers of observations for a single organism (records linked by IndividualID - and soon expects to group records that derive the same sampling event. How can this increased richness be represented in maps and other tools for accessing the data?

Visualizing a changing world

Biodiversity changes with time, as does our knowledge of biodiversity. How do we best visualize these changes?

What lives here? presents very detailed maps, but how can we tell users what organisms are represented by the dots?

Evolutionary trees

Sequences from DNA barcoding and metabarcoding are increasingly used to study biodiversity. How can we integrate such data with GBIF-mediated species occurrence data? Can we decorate GBIF maps with evolutionary trees?

Fix me

When users spot an error in the data—like a frog that appears in the ocean—how can they best annotate them so they can be fixed?

More information

For complete details on the Challenge—including its entry processes, deadlines, prizes, judges, and judging criteria—visit the GBIF Ebbe Nielsen Challenge on ChallengePost.