Published May 1, 2020 | Version v1
Report Open

Twenty-Year Review of GBIF

  • 1. Consultant for CODATA
  • 2. CODATA Coordinator and Editor


This independent report was requested from CODATA by the GBIF Governing Board and leadership, who comprise the primary intended audience. The report comprises two documents:

  1. the EXECUTIVE SUMMARY, which presents the conclusions and recommendations; and,
  2. the FULL REPORT which lays out thematically and discusses the substantial evidence which the CODATA team gathered through extensive research and interviews.

Government decision-makers and others in the biodiversity community may want to read Chapter 9 of the FULL REPORT, which contains the full conclusions and recommendations, and the body of the report for the supporting evidence and rationale. The report is also intended to provide the GBIF team leaders and data Node managers with a neutral view of GBIF by external experts.


The past two decades of the new century have brought into sharp relief many global trends, both positive and negative, that put the current review of the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) in a larger context and inform action in the coming years. Societal challenges provide important reasons for bold action. Our planet is experiencing environmental degradation on a massive scale—whether it is climate warming (IPCC 2018), the impacts on our lands and oceans1, or the immense loss of biodiversity. The latter, which many informed observers have referred to as the beginning of the 6th Great Extinction (Kolbert 2014), is the immediate context for GBIF and this review. Although we are aware of these huge negative trends, there is much that we do not know about biodiversity in many places on the planet and thus are not well equipped to confront the problems comprehensively, even if we mustered the requisite will to do so. And, of course, there are many other forces that work against our ability to respond positively to these crises and that need to be challenged by broadly available factual information. Good information, responsibly used, can be transforming and lead to appropriate decision-making.

These societal challenges provide a compelling rationale and urgent need for data mobilization and collection to support greater action by global information activities such as GBIF. We believe it is the positive trends, however, that increasingly provide the means to do the biodiversity data work successfully. We therefore focus here principally on the scientific and technical developments, as well as the social context in which they occurred, over the past twenty years.

From a scientific standpoint, there has been an explosion of data and information, and a concomitant paradigm shift to data-driven research and specifically biodiversity research and its myriad applications. Moreover, there are many new and “non-traditional” sources of information, such as meta-barcoding and remote sensing technologies, that are being integrated in this changing paradigm. Novel and redesigned scientific data organizations, including those supporting citizen science and integrating indigenous knowledge, are developing approaches designed specifically to take advantage of the unprecedented data opportunities in a cooperative framework. And innovative open data policies and structures are proliferating.

The inexorable progress of information technologies makes this scientific data revolution possible. As a biodiversity information facility and global infrastructure expressly set up as a focal point and institution to mediate such data, GBIF is uniquely positioned to take advantage of these opportunities and confront the challenges. This 20-year review and resulting report are intended to help GBIF and its large network make that happen.



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