GBIF—the Global Biodiversity Information Facility—is an open-data research infrastructure funded by the world’s governments and aimed at providing anyone, anywhere access to data about all types of life on Earth.
Coordinated through its Secretariat in Copenhagen, the GBIF network of member states and organizations—formally known as Participants—provides data-holding institutions around the world with common standards and open-source tools that enable them to share information about where and when species have been recorded. This knowledge derives from many sources, including everything from museum specimens collected in the 18th and 19th century to geotagged smartphone photos shared by amateur naturalists in recent days and weeks.
The GBIF network draws all these sources together through the use of the Darwin Core standard, which forms the basis of GBIF.org’s index of hundreds of millions of species occurrence records. Publishers provide open access to their datasets using machine-readable Creative Commons licence designations, allowing scientists, researchers and others to apply the data in hundreds of peer-reviewed publications and policy papers each year. Many of these analyses—which cover topics from the impacts of climate change and the spread of invasive and alien pests to priorities for conservation and protected areas, food security and human health— would not be possible without this.
The GBIF Secretariat coordinates formal partnerships with relevant international treaty bodies and helps countries meet their national and international policy commitments on biodiversity and sustainable development. Using tools, code and data freely available through this voluntary network, GBIF Participants frequently set up and maintain their own national open-access data portals to help inform citizens and policy makers about their countries’ own biodiversity.
Background and history
GBIF arose from a 1999 recommendation by the Biodiversity Informatics Subgroup of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Megascience Forum. Its report concluded that “An international mechanism is needed to make biodiversity data and information accessible worldwide”, arguing that this mechanism could produce many economic and social benefits and enable sustainable development by providing sound scientific evidence.
The OECD panel specifically recommended the establishment of a Global Biodiversity Information Facility, to
“enable users to navigate and put to use vast quantities of biodiversity information, advancing scientific research … serving the economic and quality-of-life interests of society, and providing a basis from which our knowledge of the natural world can grow rapidly and in a manner that avoids duplication of effort and expenditure.”
That recommendation was endorsed by OECD science ministers and, in 2001, GBIF was officially established through Memorandum of Understanding between participating governments.
Donald Hobern, GBIF’s executive secretary, gave the following presentation on GBIF’s history in 2016.
About the Secretariat
The GBIF Secretariat is today organized into four teams:
- Participation and Engagement is responsible for operating the network of Participants and publishers, recruiting new members and enhancing the capacity of current ones.
- Data Products is responsible for the quality and scientific value of the integrated data products produced by the GBIF network.
- Informatics is responsible for data management, software development and the overall operation of the GBIF infrastructure.
- Administration is responsible for maintaining both the network and the Secretariat’s underlying operations and processes.