Biodiversity databases: biodiversity information on every desktop

Access to information about the world's biodiversity is badly needed by a wide range of users, say resource managers, policy-makers, conservationists, scientists and the general public. In order to bring such information to the Internet, where it will be freely accessible to anyone, a consortium of 28 interested countries and intergovernmental organizations is coordinating plans to form the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF). GBIF will consist of a series of interconnected databases containing information about the world's living organisms, from bacteria to plants to mammals.

"GBIF will be an outstanding tool of great value," according to James Edwards, deputy assistant director for biological sciences at the National Science Foundation (NSF). Edwards chairs the interim steering committee for GBIF.

In this week's issue of the journal Science, Edwards and coauthors discuss the GBIF. The current data about biodiversity are either scattered in many local databases, or reside on paper or other media not amenable to interactive searching. GBIF is a new framework for facilitating the digitization of biodiversity data, for compiling the data into searchable databases (both existing and newly formed ones), and for ensuring compatibility among these databases.

In concert with other existing efforts, there will be developed, through GBIF,a complete Catalog of the Names of Known Organisms and search engines to mine the vast quantities of biodiversity data.

Biodiversity is distributed all over the earth, with the highest concentration in tropical regions, especially in developing countries, and in the oceans. In contrast, scientific information about biodiversity is largely concentrated in major centers in developed countries, especially in the scientific collections of the world's natural history museums, herbaria, and microorganismal repositories. At present, it is more likely that information

Contact: Ketrina Jackson
National Science Foundation

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