Darwin Core Part 1: Intro.

Black and white image of Charles Darwin
Image of the American Goldfinch


I am charged with creating the records in Darwin Core a metadata implementation for the Iowa Ornithologists’ Union rare bird sighting forms. This is an introductory post into how I describe them as scientific data that also facilitates web access and interoperability across systems and institutions. Additional postings will occur after this one with links appearing here as they are created (Part 2). The documentation forms contain species sighting data recorded to confirm the identity of birds that are uncommon in Iowa. I take the information on these forms that identify the birds and place them in metadata fields that we make available online.

There are two ways to standardize the description of resources, metadata and cataloging. Cataloging is associated with published materials such as books, serials (magazines, journals, etc.), etc. They are described in a consistent manner to facilitate user location and use. Metadata provides a flexible way to describe any number of information resources especially nontraditional formats and digitized material. We are using metadata to describe digitized archival materials. Archives are materials collected by a family, person, or organization during their normal conduct that are preserved for the information they contain or what they reveal about their creator; they are generally associated with unique and non-published materials. As a result, I use metadata to describe the rare bird documentation forms and Darwin Core to reflect the scientific nature of the sightings.

Metadata is useful for access (search and retrieval, browse, etc.) and appraisal (decide to use, viability, etc.). It describes things such as a digital book and how its separate pages/images fit together, a resource’s location digitally or physically, or more familiar items such as the subjects or title of a resource. Essentially, other institutions and people can get access to the information in a form recorded differently than on the document as well as have our resources be compatible with those in other institutions. Metadata also enables us with Darwin Core, to share the information as scientific data. Using common fields by institutions ensures not only interoperability of the records/data themselves, but also what constitutes scientifically accurate species or bird sighting information.

Darwin Core is an extension of the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative (DCMI) that is meant to facilitate transfer of all types of resources not just scientific data. Dublin Core was created to standardize description and facilitate interoperability for all resources and environments, but is particularly associated with the dynamic (constantly changing) environment of the World Wide Web. It consolidates resources down to fifteen essential elements or fields such as Title, Creator, Contributor, etc. Having this standardized way to describe resources means that when the resources and attached information (records, metadata, etc.) can be better understood across institutions and computing environments. The fifteen elements can be combined and used by each institution as they want to reflect the multitude of forms and ways users access these resources digitally.

Darwin Core is a set of standards designed to support the sharing of biodiversity data and information between various institutions built upon this framework. Biodiversity information is generally focused on how to recognize and categorize species sighting or specimen information including location and time (spatiotemporal). It contains the necessary detail and fields for accurate scientific identification of the species that can be understood by computers and humans at other institutions. Using Darwin Core, our rare bird sighting information is extracted and recorded so that it can work with others collections and be intelligible as scientific data. This, in turn, help researchers contribute to a greater understanding of things such as wildlife conservation and bird migrations or help with digital projects at other institutions. Future posts will describe the Darwin Core description in detail such as what makes something a species sighting record scientifically viable.

Image of simplified summary supertree

Image 1: Charles Darwin by Elliott & Fry [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Image 2: Carduelis tristis American Goldfinch. May 2007 By Mdf [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

Image 3: Simplified summary supertree showing order-level relationships. Karen E. Davis and Roderic D.M. Page. from Davis KE, Page RDM. Reweaving the Tapestry: a Supertree of Birds. PLOS Currents Tree of Life. 2014 Jun 9 . Edition 1. doi: 10.1371/currents.tol.c1af68dda7c999ed9f1e4b2d2df7a08e.