Consultation on the Convergence of Digital and Extended Specimens

27 January 2021


We are pleased to announce a community consultation on the convergence of DiSSCo’s digital specimen and BCoN’s extended specimen concepts for enhancing global access to biodiversity data. The consultation will begin next February 16 and is organized under the umbrella of the Alliance for Biodiversity Knowledge and together with BCoN, GBIF and Atlas of Living Australia (ALA).

A bit of context

More than ever before, the scale of today’s global challenges, multidimensional in nature, unambiguously show that scientists, industry and policymakers need immediate and wide access to high volumes of interconnected information from different fields and interoperable tools to make the best of it.

That is the driving force of concepts like DiSSCo’s Digital Specimen (DS), that aims to provide a digital solution that connects all information related to a specimen in one single set of FAIR data. A Digital Specimen is a digital twin of a physical specimen but it is not just a visual representation of the latter. It is an actionable online set of data derived from the physical specimen and made available for researchers and computers through digitization, analysis and computational techniques. It identifies the physical specimen’s actual location and provides information about its collection event and taxonomy but it also includes a whole set of additional information: literature, traits, genomic data, biochemical analyses, ecological information, etc. all of it physically stored elsewhere but brought together digitally in a single search.

The Consultation

The past year has seen a number of organisations and scholars showing a growing interest in the potential alignment and interoperability of DiSSCo’s Digital Specimen with its counterpart in the United States, the Extended Specimen emerging from the Biological Collections Network (BCoN). While the two concepts differ slightly, it is understood that a single, robust global solution is the way to go.

During TDWG 2020, this growing group of organisations and individuals signed a Letter of Intent to work collaboratively towards a global specification and interoperability for the digital/extended specimen. These signees are now preparing an online community consultation under the umbrella of the Alliance for Biodiversity Knowledge, using a mix of virtual meetings and online discussions via GBIF’s Community Forum. 

The consultation, that opens next 16 February with two introductory sessions -at 6:00 and 15:00 UTC- will seek to engage the wider community on a number of topics, such as:


1. Digitising/mobilising FAIR data for specimens

2. Extending, enriching and integrating data

3. Annotating specimens and related data

4. Crediting and attributing tasks like data and material curation 

5. Analysing/mining specimen data for novel applications.


All of these topics have implications at the technical, financial, social, governance and professional level that require broader discussion and consensus.

The ultimate goal is to expand participation in the process, build support for further collaboration, identify key use cases, and develop an initial roadmap for community adoption and implementation.

All information about the consultation, such as the introductory sessions, timeline, topics for discussion, etc. can be found on the consultation landing page on the GBIF Community Forum.

4. Among DiSSCo services, which one(s) will your role most benefit from?

Dag Endresen: Maybe the DiSSCo DOI registration entity? Professional mechanisms for physical specimen level persistent identification will be a critical fundament for very many other dependent services to build further from. (…) UCAS & these services for persistent specimen-level (or still only planned at digital-specimen-level?) and annotation could be a giant step forward for museums – and of huge direct benefit to tasks under my role at the museum in Oslo!!

Henry Engledow: SDR – this interests me the most. As I mostly work with the data and analysis – this could greatly help me in improving the quality of our collections.

Pierre-Yves Gagnier: ELVIS, Dashboard, Knowledgebase, Helpdesk, Autorisation infrastructure, are of interest for researcher or collection manager but not for the role (delegate for digital innovation) that I play in my institution beside the development of these applications. My role will benefit more from the Digital specimen concept from the Digital Specimen Repository and Specimen Data Refinery for innovation and specimen data quality control.

Helen Hardy: I hope that DiSSCo will provide both a catalyst, a platform and potentially a funding/grant mechanism for us to offer digitisation on demand and digital services such as additional imaging or even chemical and genomic analyses. It will be a challenge to be ready for this but will be really great if there is a good way to link users/demand with those services and with sources of funding.

Data standards and similar frameworks developed with or around DiSSCo are enormously valuable for data linkage and usefulness. (…)

Bram Langeveld: Collection Digitisation Dashboard, Specimen Data Refinery and Digital Specimen Repository seem most promising as they will increase our digitization efficiency and may result in more use of the results.

Myriam van Walsum: To improve our data quality, it would be interesting to implement UCAS; getting enrichment through annotations. However, this will have a major impact on our collection application landscape. How do we approve data and get that data back into our own CMS and collection portal? (…)

5. If you could make one or two suggestions to help DiSSCo be more supportive or responsive to your role needs, what would they be?

Lorenzo Cecchi: (…) For those that will be outside at the beginning, the benefits in joining DiSSCo should be always higher than the effort needed to join. To this goal, I’m expecting that the training strategy, especially in terms of user-friendly and multilingual communication documents and tutorials, will have a central role.

Dag Endresen: Support with finding a model for alignment of the GBIF node manager role and the DiSSCo node role. There are many overlapping mandates and tasks.(…) Some kind of progress on citation metrics services for the granularity of individual physical museum specimens. And FAIR data certification for museums in DiSSCo. Such services would most likely be a powerful demonstration of the need for DiSSCo when approaching national research council funding.

Henry Engledow: We need a good CMS that is support by the community and not defined by national borders. The development or support of tools for data cleaning, or that support research (…)

Helen Hardy: Be clearer about DiSSCo strategic vision and goals – not just what it might be but the impact it is intended to have and key communications messages about that for us all to use (…) – this would help me as a national/local leader in digitisation strategy.

Anne Koivunen: Currently, it would be nice to find the outputs produced in the DiSSCo projects more easily e.g. the Knowledge base could be updated more regularly.

Myriam van Walsum: We make short term and longer term plans for our applications. The DiSSCO services will have an impact on these plans. To be able to allow for these developments, we have a need to know which requirements we need to meet to be able to implement them at a later date. (…)

Luc Willemse: Communicate a lot, lot more with the community based on use cases and the role DiSSCo will play in improving or changing these and how this benefits researchers, collection managers etc.

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