It seems difficult to keep track of all the different sources of available data, and these repositories differ in their openness to public access, with some requiring registration, permission requests, and the requirement to include data submitters as authors on publications. With Genbank as the gold standard for a data repository, it is inevitable that other types of ecological data will soon be required to be freely available. I've never figured out why genetic data has different accessibility expectations than, say, leaf trait data.
Thursday, August 13, 2015
#ESA100 The big-data era: ecological advances through data availability
Ecology is in a time of transition –from small-scale studies being the norm to large, global datasets employed to test broad generalities. Along with this ‘big data’ trend is the change in the ethical responsibility of scientists who receive public funds to share their data and ensure public access. As a result big online data repositories have been popping up everywhere.
One thing that I have been doing while listening to talks, or talking with people, is to make note of the use of large online databases. It is clear that the use of these types of data has become commonplace. So much so, that in a number of talks, the speakers simply referred to them by acronyms and we all understood what it was that they used. Here are examples of online data sources I heard referenced (and there are certainly many more):
Despite the attractiveness of huge amounts of data available online, such data can only paint broad pictures of patterns in nature and cannot capture small scale variability very well (Simberloff 2006). We still require detailed experiments and trait measurements at small scales for things like within-species trait variability.
Ecology has grown, and will continue to do so as data is made available. Yet, the classic ecological field experiment will continue to be the mainstay for ecological advancement into the future.
Simberloff, D. (2006) Rejoinder to Simberloff (2006): don't calculate effect sizes; study ecological effects. Ecology Letters, 9, 921-922.