Proceedings of TDWG : Conference Abstract
Conference Abstract
Global Biotic Interactions: A Catalyst For Integrating Existing Interaction Datasets, Connecting Data Curators And Developing Data Exchange Methods
expand article info Jorrit H Poelen
‡ 400 Perkins St Apt 104, Oakland, CA, United States of America
Open Access


Since 2013, Global Biotic Interactions (GloBI,, Poelen et al. 2014) has taken an opportunistic, decentralized approach to integrating, and make accessible, existing species interaction datasets. Rather than expecting dataset curators to conform to some publication regime, methods were developed to automatically and algorithmically discover, parse and link existing datasets without the need to reformat, relocate, or transfer ownership of, the existing dataset. The automated nature of GloBI helps to: (a) automate propagation of dataset updates (b) quickly detect data integration issues (e.g. outage, change in data format), (c) integrate new datasets without having to contact some central office, (d) avoid permanent data loss due to software integration bugs, and, last but not least, (e) access to datasets even after GloBI goes away.

As far back as 1927, Charles Elton, a founding father of modern ecology, realized the importance of linking natural history knowledge stored in professional journals while acknowledging the value of local (amateur) knowledge. Despite technological advances, details on how species interact are only still largely available by studying professional journals, manually inspecting datasets or striking up a conversation with a ecologist, farmer or citizen scientist. The lack of access to species interaction data is known as the Eltonian shortfall (Hortal et al. 2015). GloBI’s mission is to address this shortcoming.

By borrowing from software engineering practices such as test driven development and continuous integration, re-purposing freely available platforms such as GitHub, Zenodo, Travis CI and integrating with many existing biodiversity services (e.g.,,,, GloBI has grown to include about 2.8M interaction records spanning 100k taxa (source:, 17 July 2017) and has established bi-directional links to projects including, but not limited to, the NCBI Taxonomy, World Register of Marine Species, Encyclopedia of Life and iNaturalist.

As GloBI continues to link existing species interaction datasets, and form a loosely affiliated community of data curators, educators and (citizen) scientists, the data integration platform is well-suited to play an active and experimental role in the development of novel methods to more easily mobilize and integrate species interaction data in an effort to realize Charles Elton's dream to "[...] provide conceptions which can link up into some complete scheme the colossal store of facts about natural history which has accumulated up to date in this rather haphazard manner. [...]" (Elton 1927).


ecology, species interactions, ecological informatics, species associations, data integration

Presenting author

Jorrit H. Poelen


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