Guidance to help local governments preserve and publish valuable biodiversity data has been provided in a new best practice guide.
The guide — published last month (25 May) by the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) and Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI) — outlines the tools and infrastructure available to governments for publishing data, and the benefits of sharing biodiversity information.
Urban planning procedures — such as environmental impact assessments — routinely collect biodiversity data, but subsequently make little use of it.
The new GBIF and ICLEI guide aims to explain how local governments can tap into this large pool of biodiversity information and store it most effectively; its publication complements a recently-released technical document for standardising data.
The guide recommends using standardised GBIF spreadsheet templates for collecting and referencing data, and publishing these either independently or through data-hosting centres, so that they can be shared through GBIF's open-access portal. It also suggests that data collection and publishing be integrated into standard environmental planning procedures.
This would benefit local governments by improving biodiversity databases, which are vital to effective environmental planning, management and policy, and making policy more transparent and accountable.
According to Russell Galt, biodiversity and ecosystem manager at ICLEI Africa and a contributing author to the guide, the growing recognition that urban quality of life depends on the integrity of ecosystems has not been matched by better access to the relevant data needed for conservation.
"The quality of local government planning processes depends largely on the availability of reliable data. Sound policy is underpinned by sound data", he told SciDev.Net.
"By helping local governments standardise and publish their biodiversity data we can bring about tangible benefits for [the environment]."
Rapid urbanisation and high concentrations of biodiversity in the developing world make sharing data from these regions particularly important, Galt said.
There were already plans for the GBIF open-source portal to be used as a foundation for ICLEI, GBIF and local African government collaborations focused on creating and disseminating biodiversity data-publishing case-studies, he added.
Jeremy Cherfas, a member of the knowledge management and capacity strengthening unit at Bioversity International — a non-profit biodiversity agency in Italy — welcomed the guide as an "important initiative" for engaging local governments in biodiversity data management.
"Much of the most interesting biological diversity exists on a very small scale, so local authorities are in an excellent position to make provisions, as they are the ones on the ground doing the work."
But the value of such an initiative depended on the quality of the data itself, Cherfas warned. Without proper training for field researchers, the data collected would not always be reliable, he said.