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Terrestrial and freshwater data archeology

In 2012, the Research Institute for Nature and Forest (INBO) made an initial inventory of relevant terrestrial and freshwater data available at the INBO. Data disclosure of these datasets is prioritized towards (1) data from the new observatories, (2) existing major data systems, and (3) existing datasets that contribute to four major showcases (i.e. the monitoring of alien species, migrating birds, wetlands and bark beetle damage to forests) and two pilot projects (seabirds and fish monitoring). Datasets identified as having a high priority and return on investment, are cleaned, incorporated in one of the main INBO data systems, standardized and disclosed/published. This process is ongoing and happens in collaboration with the Belgian Biodiversity Platform.

Data policy

On January 20th 2015, the INBO officially adopted an open data policy, as one of the first research institutes in Flanders. The LifeWatch INBO team was a major contributor and catalyst in drafting this policy, which will result in a substantial amount of biodiversity data (species occurrence data and other types) becoming available to users – including those of the LifeWatch infrastructure – over the coming years. The policy, which is available here, consists of a number of guidelines, including:

  1. All scientific data owned by the INBO are subject to the data policy
  2. Data are eligible for publication 12 months after collecting
  3. Each year a selection of high-priority (occurrence) datasets will be published
  4. Data associated with scientific articles and reports will be published with the article
  5. Data will be published as open data, under a Creative Commons Zero waiver
  6. Published datasets will reference our norms for data use (available at
  7. Published datasets will be adequately documented with metadata

Cooperation agreement with Natuurpunt

Natuurpunt is the largest nature association in Flanders. Through its platform it collects over 19 million species observations recorded by volunteers and citizen scientists. Scientific use of these data are typically managed via contract deals and public use is restricted. In 2014, LifeWatch INBO has negotiated a cooperation agreement with Natuurpunt to publish two substantial datasets per year as open data and to allow the INBO continued access to the raw occurrences data for scientific use. The two datasets – which will focus on major taxonomic groups and selected by a steering committee – will be standardized, published under a Creative Commons Zero waiver, and registered with GBIF in the same way we publish occurrence datasets at the INBO. The geographic precision of the data will be rounded, but will allow public and scientific use on a provincial, national, and European scale. Through this deal – which was signed on December 12th, 2014 – this wealth of previously inaccessible citizen science data will become available to everyone – including the LifeWatch infrastructure users – over the coming years.

2015 marked the first year the cooperation agreement came into effect. The steering group decided to publish the following datasets in the coming 2 years: butterflies, plants, exotic species and fish. We worked in close collaboration with Natuurpunt and researchers at the INBO to setup a workflow to standardize the data, solve any data quality issues and document the dataset with metadata. Although we encountered some delays, the first dataset (butterflies) is expected to be published in January 2016 and the workflow we have set up for this dataset will facilitate the publication of the other datasets in 2016 and beyond.


Species occurrence datasets (observations, tracking data), which represent the majority of the datasets at the INBO, are published through the INBO IPT (Integrated Publishing Toolkit, developed by the Global Biodiversity Information Facility - GBIF). The data are formatted in the international Darwin Core Archive standard, using Darwin Core term definitions for fields and the Ecological Metadata Language (EML) for the dataset metadata. The datasets are registered with GBIF, which allow these to be discovered and used by a wider international audience through the GBIF data portal. GBIF has also developed web services to access the data and metadata, which can be used for central LifeWatch developments.

In 2015, the INBO IPT was upgraded to version 2.2.2 and then 2.3.2. Version 2.2.2 introduced additional data validation, more extensive metadata, automatic generation of resource citations and requires data to be published under one of the following licenses: CC0, CC-BY or CC-BY-NC. The INBO datasets are published under the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) waiver, which imposes no restrictions or requirements on data use, is the most fit for scientific data, and is strongly recommended by GBIF. Version 2.3.2 of the IPT supports the publication of sample-based datasets: a type of dataset that applies to many of the data sources managed by the INBO. This means that those data sources can now be published using the Darwin Core standardization and GBIF infrastructure.

Species occurrence datasets published through the INBO IPT:


  • Update of some existing datasets with new data, most notably the gull tracking dataset, which now contains over 2.4 million occurrences. For this dataset, also a peer reviewed data paper was published in ZooKeys (Stienen, E.W.M.; Desmet, P.; Aelterman, B.; Courtens, W.; Feys, S.; Vanermen, N.; Verstraete, H.; Van de walle, M.; Deneudt, K.; Hernandez, F.; Houthoofdt, R.; Vanhoorne, B.; Bouten, W.; Buijs, R.J.; Kavelaars, M.M.; Müller, W.; Herman, D.; Matheve, H.; Sotillo, A.; Lens, L. (2016). GPS tracking data of Lesser Black-backed Gulls and Herring Gulls breeding at the southern North Sea coast. ZooKeys 555: 115-124. doi: