[Tdwg-obs] observation definition / moving forward

Lynn Kutner Lynn_Kutner at natureserve.org
Mon Jan 30 23:41:27 CET 2006

A belated happy new years to all!
It's been quite awhile since the last post to the TDWG-observations
list, so I have included at the bottom the previous message as a
reminder of where we are in the discussion about a working definition
for "observation".
In the interim, I discussed directly with Steve a minor edit to make the
wording in the second sentence of the observation definition plural.
Steve liked this edit, so we propose the following as our working
definition for the observation subgroup:

"An observation characterizes the occurrence of an organism or set of
organisms through a data collection event at a location. Observations
are not necessarily independent entities and could be linked via
characteristics such as time, place, protocol, and co-occurring

As a next step, we propose to develop more fully the definitions for the
following words or phrases. As we we work through these definitions,
please keep in mind addressing the issues that have been raised
regarding topics such as: negative data, protocol, spatial temporal
issues, and data aggregation.


        data collection event 



        could be linked 

We thought it best to start with fleshing out the definition for
"occurrence" since that seems to be fundamental. I did some searching
for existing definitions of "occurrence" in a biological context and it
seems to most often be a word that is used with the assumption that
everybody is working from a common frame of reference. 

The following is from:

Chapman, A. D. 2005. Principles of Data Quality, version 1.0. Report for
the Global Biodiversity Information Facility, Copenhagen.


Species-occurrence data

Species-occurrence data is used here to include specimen label data
attached to specimens or lots housed in museums and herbaria,
observational data and environmental survey data. In general, the data
are what we term "point-based", although line (transect data from
environmental surveys, collections along a river), polygon (observations
from within a defined area such as a national park) and grid data
(observations or survey records from a regular grid) are also included.
In general we are talking about georeferenced data - i.e. records with
geographic references that tie them to a particular place in space -
whether with a georeferenced coordinate (e.g. latitude and longitude,
UTM) or not (textual description of a locality, altitude, depth) - and
time (date, time of day). In general the data are also tied to a
taxonomic name, but unidentified collections may also be included. The
term has occasionally been used interchangeably with the term "primary
species data".

Primary species data

"Primary species data" is used to describe raw collection data and data
without any spatial attributes. It includes taxonomic and nomenclatural
data without spatial attributes, such as names, taxa and taxonomic
concepts without associated geographic references.

Thoughts or suggestions on a working definition of "occurrence" for this
Thank you in advance for your ideas!
Lynn Kutner 
Data Management Coordinator, NatureServe 
Email:    lynn_kutner at natureserve.org 
Phone:   (303) 541-0360 



From: Steve Kelling [mailto:stk2 at cornell.edu] 
Sent: Wednesday, November 30, 2005 7:57 AM
To: Lynn Kutner; Tdwg-obs at lists.tdwg.org
Subject: Re: [Tdwg-obs] Monitoring definition and protocol repository

I really like comments that Lynn has brought, and appreciate that she
forwarded the definition around NatureServe. I do have a couple of
comments, which are found in the text below.

At 06:36 PM 11/22/2005 -0500, you wrote:

	There was concern that including "defined protocol" in the
definition of
	observation could be overly restrictive and prevent the
inclusion in an
	observation data repository of high quality / high confidence
	information that was collected opportunistically and not as part
of an
	official survey with a protocol. 

While in some ways I feel that it is good to include a protocol in the
definition, I can agree that it is not really essential in a primary
definition of an observation. My reason is that in the NA bird
monitoring community, even opportunistic observations are considered a
protocol. These are characterized as opportunistic or incidental
observations. Furthermore, in our development of the a data exchange
schema for bird monitoring data the variable protocol figured
prominently.  So, while not part of the definition, I suggest that we
make sure to spend some time on a discussion of protocols in future

	We'd like to propose adding some language to incorporate
	tracking of negative data. These would be data where a survey
	conducted for a certain species (such as a rare orchid) in an
area where
	it would be expected to be found, and the observer wants to
document and
	communicate that information to inform future survey efforts,
	distribution mapping efforts, and activities such as
	planning. This would be different from inferring negative data
as is
	sometimes done with bird observation data.

I think that this is a good idea. The concept of negative data is an
important one, with a variety of different angles. But, as with protocol
I don't believe that it is absolutely essential in our definition. My
feeling is that the way we use occurrence in the definition does not
infer only positive observations. So, I suggest that we do not include
this, but again spend quite a bit of time on this topic as we expand and
explore the basic definition.

	Also - does the "defined spatiotemporal location" need to be
	precise, or can it be defined generally (with spatiotemporal
	as needed) to reflect knowledge of the observation or observer?
	example - include imprecise dates (e.g. spring 1998) and
locations (3
	miles SW of the intersection of Clear Creek and Main Road)?

Yes, I believe that we can be less explicit on the location. So having
more vague terminology in the definition is a good thing. 

Finally, I always feel that a definition should strive to get its
message across in as few a words as possible. So, I might suggest:

"An observation characterizes the occurrence of an organism or set of
organisms through a data collection event at a location.  An observation
is not necessarily an independent entity and could be linked via
characteristics such as time, place, protocol, and co-occurring

The words or phrases in bold in the definition need to be developed more
fully. As we work through the definitions of these words and phrases I
believe that issues being brought up such as negative data, protocol,
spatial temporal issues, and data aggregation can be addressed.


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