Decentralized but Globally Coordinated Biodiversity Data

Beckett W. Sterner, Edward E. Gilbert, Nico M. Franz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Centralized biodiversity data aggregation is too often failing societal needs due to pervasive and systemic data quality deficiencies. We argue for a novel approach that embodies the spirit of the Web (“small pieces loosely joined”) through the decentralized coordination of data across scientific languages and communities. The upfront cost of decentralization can be offset by the long-term benefit of achieving sustained expert engagement, higher-quality data products, and ultimately more societal impact for biodiversity data. Our decentralized approach encourages the emergence and evolution of multiple self-identifying communities of practice that are regionally, taxonomically, or institutionally localized. Each community is empowered to control the social and informational design and versioning of their local data infrastructures and signals. With no single aggregator to exert centralized control over biodiversity data, decentralization generates loosely connected networks of mid-level aggregators. Global coordination is nevertheless feasible through automatable data sharing agreements that enable efficient propagation and translation of biodiversity data across communities. The decentralized model also poses novel integration challenges, among which the explicit and continuous articulation of conflicting systematic classifications and phylogenies remain the most challenging. We discuss the development of available solutions, challenges, and outline next steps: the global effort of coordination should focus on developing shared languages for data signal translation, as opposed to homogenizing the data signal itself.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number519133
JournalFrontiers in Big Data
StatePublished - Oct 23 2020


  • biodiversity data
  • communities of practice
  • data aggregation
  • data intelligence
  • decentralization
  • knowledge commons
  • ontology alignment
  • systematic biology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Computer Science (miscellaneous)
  • Information Systems


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