Organizing our knowledge of biodiversity
Though natural history collections are long established and numerous, data on biodiversity is sparse, poorly developed, inconsistent and rarely digitally preserved, and their providers are often inaccessible. The Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) and the Taxonomic Databases Working Group (TDWG) for Biodiversity Information Standards are leading efforts to overcome such barriers. The GBIF has collected over 200 million records formally describing natural history specimens from hundreds of sources, while also serving the rapidly growing online community of amateur field observers. The two organizations face challenges arising from ambiguity of taxonomic names and the need to make voluminous and critical historical collections available and to develop standard metadata vocabularies that can be understood and used by all. The combination of science informatics tools, including a robust vocabulary and linked data conventions, with a networked, active user community will enable effective biodiversity data management over the long term.