[Tdwg-obs] Definition of an observation

Steve Kelling stk2 at cornell.edu
Sun Nov 20 17:01:11 CET 2005


I think that the issues being brought up around the proposed definition of 
an observation, and the subsequent discussions and proposed modifications 
of the definition have been illuminating. The result, I believe, is that we 
are creating a more useful definition of an observation. I do want to make 
a couple of points.

First, what we are trying to define is the fundamental datum, or fixed 
reference point from which observational data can be integrated with data 
from other biodiversity initiatives such as the organization of museum 
specimen collections. I agree with Denis that in order to accomplish this 
we must be able to define the "core elements" of an observation. 
Consequently, this definition only needs to recognize protocols, sampling 
area, quality etc. Addressing these issues are the next step and Matt's 
comments are right on.

Second, Lynn's comment about the inclusion of ecological communities is 
extremely important for the same reasons that aggregation of observational 
data are. These two points have a major impact on how biodiversity 
informatics, particularly international efforts such as TDWG and GBIF 
organize and present information. These concepts move away from the 
specimen as the foundation of organization. For example, the community 
concept is based on species assemblages (instead of a single species), are 
well embraced by other ecological organizing initiatives as Bob Peet points 
out, and necessitates a change in organizational schemas. Furthermore, 
aggregating observations into collecting events changes the hierarchical 
structure of organizational schemas, because the collecting event and not 
the individual species record is the principal focus.

I suggest that we go with the definition of an observation as:

An observation characterizes the occurrence of an organism (or a community 
of organisms) through a collection event using a defined protocol and 
spatiotemporal location. Individual observations are non-independent 
entities that can be linked to each other through their common characteristics.

If this group agrees with this I will post it on the TDWG observational 
monitoring web page.

Steve Kelling
Cornell Lab of Ornithology
607-254-2478 (work)
607-342-1029 (cell)

More information about the tdwg-content mailing list