The Biodiversity Collections Network (BCoN) emerged from a five-year national initiative funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF DBI 1441785) to support the development of a new, sustainable community of practice that will ensure that all U.S. biodiversity collections are digitally available for research, education, informed decision-making, and other scholarly and creative activities.
Biodiversity collections, including living, preserved and fossilized biological and geological specimens, are a critical resource for scientists advancing knowledge that informs challenging global issues including climate change, biodiversity conservation, and our response to pandemics such as COVID-19. They also provide essential resources for the education of current and future generations in biodiversity conservation and related subjects. For collections to actualize their true potential for advancing research and education, we need a community vision and clear set of strategies that grow the collections, diversify the workforce, foster curation of specimens, provide guidelines and new tools to generate, manage and maintain digital data, and facilitate the integration and accessibility of the complex and growing network of associated environmental data.
BCoN started as an outgrowth of scientific meetings in which scientists articulated a need to digitally capture biological specimens and associated data held in natural science collections for use in research, education, and for the public interest. The initiative was founded by the American Institute of Biological Sciences, the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections, and the Natural Science Collections Alliance.
In 2019, BCoN released the Extended Specimen Network (ESN) report informed by a series of workshops and stakeholder discussions. The report proposed a national agenda to leverage digital data in biodiversity collections for new uses. The ESN includes both the physical specimens and their associated genetic, phenotypic, and environmental data. The network relies on new data-integration mechanisms that digitally link all of the dynamic components.
The biodiversity science community has made great strides towards creating a digital data resource with tremendous potential to forge global partnerships and build science capacity. The ESN concept has developed alongside the European Digital Specimen concept. A global initiative to integrate these parallel efforts and identify future strategies was led by the Alliance for Biodiversity Knowledge in a consultation, titled “Converging Digital and Extended Specimens: Towards a Global Specification for Data Integration.” BCoN was actively engaged in the planning and coordination of this international effort.
Since the NSF grant concluded in the fall of 2020, the BCoN Advisory Council has continued to regularly convene to plan next steps. Looking to the next stage of community engagements, BCoN plans to organize a series of workshops in the fall of 2021 to engage a wider range of stakeholders in the development of an implementation plan for the ESN.
We invite all stakeholders to join us as we, through BCoN and other national and international efforts, work to build a broader community vision for the future of biodiversity collections.
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