While there is a trend in the field of ecology towards collecting data with automated sensors (e.g., the National Ecological Observatory Network), individual investigators and independent research projects still generate much ecological data through field observations and experiments.
Because these small projects do not have the resources or technical expertise to link with national data repositories, there is a danger that data collected by these projects will not be documented or curated appropriately and therefore be lost forever to science (e.g., dark data).
To address this problem, investigators at The University of New Mexico’s Center for Research in Ecological Science and Technology (CREST) were recently awarded $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to develop a prototype National Ecological Data Center. The 3-year grant, titled “Environmental Data Initiative” (EDI), involves investigators from UNM’s Department of Biology, University of Wisconsin and the University of California-Santa Barbara.
The project will build upon PASTA (Provenance Aware Synthesis Tracking Architecture) software, developed by CREST scientists, to create an open access data repository for ecological scientists.
”It is not enough to simply make a data repository available to a research community, you have to work with them so that the repository becomes part of their daily workflow,” said Principal Investigator and UNM Research Assistant Professor Mark Servilla.
The EDI will engage the ecological community to encourage the publication of ecological data that are presently difficult to find and access. The initial focus will be on research funded by NSF’s Long Term Research in Environmental Biology (LTREB) and MacroSystems Biology (MSB) programs as well as independent researchers working at sites that are part of the Organization of Biological Field Stations (OBFS).