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Sharing and Accessing Biodiversity Data Globally

Clicking on the Online Mapping link from the CBIF portal sends the user to a page with three links. The first link allows a user without specialized GIS knowledge a cobrato use the global index via WMS as just described. The second link leads to the Generic Point Mapper. With this tool, anyone can generate a dynamic map with typical functionality such as zooming and re-centering. Users can access this tool to build such maps for their own Web sites. The third link lets programmers and developers who do have specialized GIS knowledge add GBIF species occurrence layers to other online GIS applications and access the actual WMS that underlies the Map GBIF Occurrence Data service.

Similar mapping services are provided by other sites, but these sites do not currently use data from the GBIF central data portal. Berkeley mapper works against those DiGIR providers that belong to the MaNIS and HerpNet networks. Centro de Referência em Informação Ambiental (CRIA) in Campinas, Brazil, offers a wide suite of geographic and other data quality checking services for the Brazilian data providers in the SpeciesLink network.

Becoming a GBIF Data Provider

It is important to understand that GBIF is not just a secretariat based in Copenhagen or just a data portal. GBIF is all the institutions, corporations, and individuals whose countries or organizations have signed the Memorandum of Understanding that mandates GBIF. In so doing, they have expressed their willingness to openly share biodiversity data, in the spirit of important initiatives, such as the Conservation Commons, that highlight the importance of open sharing of data for societal and scientific benefit.

The GBIF data sharing agreement upholds the principles of sharing biodiversity data openly for common benefit. It is only through the combined efforts of the owners of this data can some of the most burning environmental questions be answered and new scientific discoveries made. Sharing data is a scientific responsibility of all taxonomists, observer networks, and environmental surveys.

Becoming a GBIF data provider is easy and, in many cases, will not take more than a few hours. It includes a few steps that are explained on the GBIF Web site ( The technical tasks consist of downloading and configuring the BioCASE- or DiGIR-based data provider software. There are three integrated packages for Windows and Linux that install in minutes and are supported through a central help desk and documentation. These packages have been put together from open source components. GBIF naturally provides these packages as well as central Web services and registry for free enabling and facilitating open sharing by data holders.

Future Steps and Conclusions

GBIF will soon add a few more data types, going beyond primary data. There will be data provider tools for names and checklists. Species home pages that include digital images are mushrooming on the Internet. Linking to these will add value to shared primary data. Images can be shared by BioCASE/ABCD providers, but extending that capability to all data providers is an important extension to the Darwin Core currently under development. Interfaces for accessing GBIF portals and data providers directly from GIS software tools will also soon be available. The new TAPIR provider will have an Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) Web Feature Service (WFS). These interfaces can be registered in the UDDI registry as additional alternate bindings.

Recently, GBIF experimented with slicing its global index by country. For instance, a slice of all data from Madagascar was used for a geographic demonstration put together by Conservation International. a frogGBIF is in the process of installing mirror sites for its central data portal in Germany, Korea, and the United States. There will probably also be specialized service providers that use these mirror sites' interfaces. The experience of the CBIF WMS site has been so positive that other similar services can now be encouraged and standard mechanisms for building such value-adding services will have to be established. The data quality assurance services of CRIA and SpeciesLink are examples of what can be achieved. Under an agreement between CRIA and GBIF, some of these services are also being modified for the GBIF data portal.

In closing, it should be emphasized that the GBIF data portal does not intend to be all things for all users. The open interfaces of the GBIF UDDI registry mean that anyone can build portals that access GBIF registered data providers. Some specialized communities have already taken advantage of this such as the Lifemapper project that made use of this open availability. For more information, contact

Hannu Saarenmaa
Deputy Director for Informatics
GBIF Secretariat
Universitetsparken 15
2100 Copenhagen
Tel.: +45-35321479


Peterson, A. T. 2001. "Predicting Species' Geographic Distributions Based on Ecological Niche Modeling." Condor, 103:599-605.

Peterson, A. T., M. A. Ortega-Huerta, J. Bartley, V. Sanchez-Cordero, J. Soberon, R. H. Buddemeier, and D. R. B. Stockwell. 2002. "Future Projections for Mexican Faunas Under Global Climate Change Scenarios." Nature, 416:626-629.

Soberón, J., and A. T. Peterson. 2004. "Biodiversity Informatics: Managing and Applying Primary Biodiversity Data." Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B, 359:689-698.


Guy Baillargeon, Derek Munro, and Françoise Guilbault of the Canadian Biodiversity Information Facility built the dynamic Web mapping service and contributed text to this article. Johan Duflost, Patricia Mergen, and Frédéric Wautelet of the Belgian Biodiversity Information Facility built the Belgian mapping service. Donald Hobern, Meredith Lane, and Larry Speers of the GBIF Secretariat contributed text, reviewed this article, and improved the language. Thanks to them all.

About the Author

Hannu Saarenmaa has served as the deputy director for informatics of the GBIF since August 2002. He is responsible for the overall strategy, planning, budget, and integration of the informatics aspects of GBIF. Prior to his work at GBIF, he was the project manager for information technology at the European Environment Agency (EEA) where he was instrumental in developing the overall information infrastructure for EEA and the European Environment Information and Observation Network (EIONET), a network that connects environment ministries and agencies in all European Union and accession countries. Between 1978 and 1994, Saarenmaa held various research positions at the Finnish Forest Research Institute. He received a doctorate in applied zoology from the University of Helsinki. The majority of his approximately 190 publications have dealt with the intersection of information technology and ecological sciences. An avid lepidopterologist since 1966, his collection database today includes more than 40,000 records and 300,000 observed specimens.

Reference Web Resources
Convention on Biological Diversity, 2010 Biodiversity
Access to Biological Collections
Taxonomic Databases Working
Catalogue of Life

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