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Biodiversity Data Journal


Alison Specht

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This paper discusses the process of retrieval and updating legacy data to allow on-line discovery and delivery. There are many pitfalls of institutional and non-institutional ecological data conservation over the long term. Interruptions to custodianship, old media, lost knowledge and the continuous evolution of species names makes resurrection of old data challenging. We caution against technological arrogance and emphasise the importance of international standards.

We use a case study of a compiled set of continent-wide vegetation survey data for which, although the analyses had been published, the raw data had not. In the original study, publications containing plot data collected from the 1880s onwards had been collected, interpreted, digitised and integrated for the classification of vegetation and analysis of its conservation status across Australia. These compiled data are an extremely valuable national collection that demanded publishing in open, readily accessible online repositories, such as the Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network ( and the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA:, the Australian node of the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF: It is hoped that the lessons learnt from this project may trigger a sober review of the value of endangered data, the cost of retrieval and the importance of suitable and timely archiving through the vicissitudes of technological change, so the initial unique collection investment enables multiple re-use in perpetuity.

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