Living Atlases

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Originally developed in 2010 by the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA) to to address the national need for access to freely available biodiversity information, the ALA’s open-source platform was one of the first sites worldwide to aggregate existing biodiversity data into one place and provide tools to analyse and visualize that data. The platform is becoming a critical component within the GBIF network, gaining wider adoption as a connected infrastructure that allows people to provide data management and scientific services at national and thematic levels. This emerging effort demonstrates how can international collaboration focus and improve data delivery and access, spread technological costs and risks, and adapt to varied national settings.

Between 2007 and 2017, the Australian government invested AUD 56 million (€39 million) in the ALA, creating ‘one of the more advanced bioenvironmental portals in the world…appeal[ing] to audiences ranging from primary school education to citizen scientist to postgraduate research’. This comprehensive biodiversity data management system is now a world-class research tool—one that helps researchers respond rapidly to new discoveries, enables decision-makers to base planning and policy decisions on the best available data, and feeds national data directly into GBIF’s international data index.

Data, standards and licensing

The Living Atlas software is designed around species names, taxonomy, occurrence based data and related data types. Future work will address supporting other relevant data types, and exploring more effective ways to spatially and temporally represent different data types (presence/absence etc).

The ALA infrastructure applies international data standards as much as possible and wherever appropriate. These include Darwin Core (DwC), Darwin Core Archive (DwC-A), Dublin Core, ISO, OGC, and others.

All components of the Living Atlas are open-source software. This minimizes running and licensing costs and avoids potential complications with intellectual property rights.

Worldwide adoption

In February 2014, the GBIF Secretariat and ALA invited external review of this highly refined web application to evaluate the possibility of adopting a streamlined core version to establish other biodiversity data portals. The effort to simplify, share and reuse this technology aimed to reduce development costs for GBIF’s nodes and expand capacity across the network through technology transfer and knowledge exchange.

The national platforms below are already in use, and several more instances are currently under development or consideration.