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Free and open access to biodiversity data

GBIF—the Global Biodiversity Information Facility—is an international network and research infrastructure funded by the world’s governments and aimed at providing anyone, anywhere, open access to data about all types of life on Earth.

Coordinated through its Secretariat in Copenhagen, the GBIF network of participating countries and organizations, working through participant nodes, 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’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 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.