Biodiversity Information Serving Our Nation (BISON) resource from USGS
The Biodiversity Information Serving Our Nation (BISON) resource from the USGS was re-launched recently and, as the name implies, provides access to biodiversity records. Researchers collect species occurrence data, records of an organism at a particular time in a particular place, as a primary or ancillary function of many biological field investigations. These data reside in numerous distributed systems and formats (including publications) and are consequently not being used to their full potential. As a step toward addressing this challenge, and to serve the data through a single portal, the Core Science Analytics and Synthesis (CSAS) program of the USGS developed BISON, an integrated and permanent resource for biological occurrence data from the United States.
BISON currently provides access to more than 110 million U.S. primary biodiversity records, many of which are made available through over 300 data providers of the Global Biodiversity Information Facility. The list of data providers is indeed impressive, ranging from organizations to universities to government agencies, and more, which contribute millions of additional records to those that the USGS began with.
The primary search mechanism is an easy-to-use map interface. The Help file is concise and useful. The legends take awhile to understand, but much of the data can be visualized on the map. I had just a bit of trouble selecting and downloading information on a selected species from the site, but was very pleased to see that the output formats include CSV, KML, and zipped SHP. About 20 data fields are provided through the data download, including, of course, latitude and longitude. My search for prairie dog netted me point locations where the species had been collected, while I was expecting to find locations where they occurred. My search for the western red-tailed hawk forced me into state polygons rather than points, and the choropleth map shading interfered with my map visualization. My download choices all were too large to download from this interface. It directed me to a different interface in this case when I selected too many records (though I would have thought 485 records were not excessive).
I found the portal helpful for small samples but finding out how to download larger amounts of data will take further investigation. With persistence and time, this could be a valuable resource for people needing information that previously required digging through many databases held by different agencies.