Strategies for the sustainability of online open-access biodiversity databases
Scientists can ensure that high quality research information is readily available on the Internet so society is not dependant on less authoritative sources. Many scientific projects and initiatives published information on species and biodiversity on the World Wide Web without users needing to pay for it. However, these resources often stagnated when project funding expired. Based on a large pool of experiences worldwide, this article discusses what measures will help such data resources develop beyond the project lifetime. Biodiversity data, just as data in many other disciplines, are often not generated automatically by machines or sensors. Data on for example species are based on human observations and interpretation. This requires continuous data curation to keep these up to date. Creators of online biodiversity databases should consider whether they have the resources to make their database of such value that other scientists and/or institutions would continue to finance its existence. To that end, it may be prudent to engage such partners in the development of the resource from an early stage. Managers of existing biodiversity databases should reflect on the factors being important for sustainability. These include the extent, scope, quality and uniqueness of database content; track record of development; support from scientists; support from institutions, and clarity of Intellectual Property Rights. Science funders should give special attention to the development of scholarly databases with expert-validated content. The science community has to become aware of the efforts of scientists in contributing to open-access databases, including by citing these resources in the Reference lists of publications that use them. Science culture must thus adapt its practices to support online databases as scholarly publications. To sustain such databases, we recommend they should (a) become integrated into larger collaborative databases or information systems with a consequently larger user community and pool of funding opportunities, and (b) be owned and curated by a science organisation, society, or institution with a suitable mandate. Good governance and proactive communication with contributors is important to maintain the team enthusiasm that launched the resource. Experience shows that ‘bigger is better’ in terms of database size because the resource will have more content, more potential and known uses and users of its content, more contributors, be more prestigious to contribute to, and have more funding options. Furthermore, most successful biodiversity databases are managed by a partnership of individuals and organisations.