New GBIF task force to speed up access to natural history collection data

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A team of international experts convened by GBIF intends to help accelerate the discovery of and access to information about the world’s undigitized specimen collections.

The task force on accelerating the discovery of bio-collections data will start by defining the essential information needed about various types of collections. This ‘metadata’ will describe the contents of each collection and help data holders to assess and prioritize their digitization activities.

“The world’s natural history collections are estimated to contain between 2.5 and 3 billion specimens, and at least 90 per cent of them are undigitized”, said Siro Masinde, programme officer for content mobilization at the GBIF Secretariat. “While these collections offer vast untapped sources of species information, their sheer scale represents a huge challenge in terms of digitization efforts. By improving and increasing access to metadata that effectively describe collections’ contents, institutions can set better priorities more quickly and make persuasive business cases for digitization.”

The task force, comprised of members from the United States, Brazil, the United Kingdom, Benin, France and Japan, will develop a strategy and an action plan through consultations with experts from other institutions, digitization initiatives and projects as well as potential funders. It also expects to share guidance on mobilizing metadata while documenting successful business models.

The task force is chaired by Leonard Krishtalka from the Biodiversity Institute at the University of Kansas. The other members of the group are,
•    Barbara Thiers, New York Botanical Garden (United States)
•    Deborah Paul, iDigBio, Florida State University (United States)
•    Eduardo Dalcin, Jardim Botânico do Rio de Janeiro (Brazil)
•    Ian Owens, Natural History Museum, London (United Kingdom)
•    Jean Ganglo, University of Abomey-Calavi (Benin)
•    Marc Pignal, Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle (France)
•    Masanori Nakae, National Museum of Nature and Science (Japan)


Swiss non-profit Plazi becomes a GBIF Participant

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Plazi, a Bern-based non-profit organization that supports and promotes linked open-access biodiversity data from digital taxonomic literature, has formally joined the GBIF network as a non-country Participant.

Building on the strength of partnership that has already seen Plazi publish more than 1,100 datasets, this step enables them to endorse publishers that wish to share their data through GBIF.org. 

Plazi maintains the Taxon Search Portal, a searchable digital taxonomic literature repository. In March 2014, the organization helped create a new workflow that provides immediate and open access to data underlying discovery of new species and shares it through EOL, Biodiversity Data Journal and GBIF.org. Publishers like Plazi and Pensoft are leading the conversion of traditionally published articles into digital formats that connect peer-reviewed research with the data that make it possible, simultaneously preserving and disseminating it more widely.

“By formally joining GBIF, Plazi advances the shared efforts of both organizations to provide critically needed access to vast stores of data and knowledge about species found in biodiversity literature,” said Donat Agosti, president of Plazi. “We are hastening a new kind of journal publishing that builds bridges between traditional scientific literature and the kind of records often mobilized by the GBIF network.”

Plazi becomes the 39th non-country Participant and the 94th member overall in the GBIF network.

Togo becomes the GBIF network’s newest Voting Participant

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Togo has changed its status in the GBIF network from Associate to Voting Participant. This update gives representatives to the West African country a direct role in GBIF's governance and contributes financially to the global open-access enterprise. The number of full Voting Participants now stands at 38—the most in GBIF’s history.

The Faculty of Sciences at the University of Lomé hosts GBIF Togo, the national ‘node’ or coordinating unit, which joined the network as an Associate Participant in 2009. Togo’s Ministry for Higher Education and Research provides additional support and guidance.

GBIF Togo received mentoring support through GBIF’s capacity enhancement programme, which enables the transfer of technologies and expertise between the network’s nodes. Its staff collaborated with GBIF France in 2010 to set up the node and begin publishing data. The mentoring project resulted in making specimen records from the country’s herbarium available through GBIF.org.

In 2013, GBIF Togo received additional mentoring, this time from GBIF Belgium, with the goal of improving its data publishing capacity, leading to the publication of checklists related to leguminous plants, algae and West African mushrooms.

As of February 2015, GBIF.org provides nearly 37,000 occurrence records of species in Togo, contributed by 22 countries.


Photo: Grottes de Nok, Togo. By Panoramas. CC BY-ND 2.0

2015 GBIF Capacity Enhancement Programme: call for proposals

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The GBIF Secretariat is now accepting proposals for funding under the 2015 Capacity Enhancement Programme, which provides GBIF Participants with co-funding for collaborative, capacity transfer projects.

Applicants must submit short concept notes for the first stage of the programme’s two-stage process by 3 March 2015. Individual projects can receive a maximum of €25,000 for a combination of mentoring activities, regional training support, GBIF advocacy actions, documentation and capacity needs assessments. Now in its second year, the programme receives its €60,000 allocation from GBIF core funds,

The 2015 call for proposals document and a template for preparing project concept notes provide details.

For further information, please contact the Secretariat.