Historical data represent a precious source of information that help to establish baselines for present and future biodiversity and global change studies. Unfortunately, primary biodiversity data are lost every day.

The Vermont Atlas of Life’s Project Phoenix aims to rescue historic biodiversity records, some a century old, now trapped in notebooks, on scraps of paper, and in old file drawers, or outdated computer files. "Data rescue" involves moving information at risk of being lost into electronic format so they can be used for present and future analyses.

An historic bird observation card from the Records of Vermont Birds.

Sharing and Archiving Historic Primary Biodiversity Data

Data sharing has become an important issue in modern biodiversity research to address large scale questions and conserve species. Despite the steadily growing scientific and conservation demand, data are not always easily accessed. Worse, it may be lost forever if it is not properly archived.

The Phoenix Project is:

The Vermont Atlas of Life has been an official Global Biodiversity Information Infrastructure (GBIF) biodiversity data publisher since 2018. GBIF is an international network and research infrastructure funded by the world’s governments and aimed at providing anyone, anywhere, open access to data about all types of life on Earth.

The GBIF network includes hundreds of institutions that publish biodiversity data, like the Vermont Atlas of Life. Coordinated through its Secretariat in Copenhagen, the GBIF network of participating countries and organizations, working through participant nodes, provides data-holding institutions around the world with common standards and open-source tools that enable them to share information about where and when species have been recorded. This knowledge derives from many sources, including everything from museum specimens collected in the 18th and 19th century to geotagged smartphone photos shared by amateur naturalists in recent days and weeks.

The GBIF network draws all these sources together through the use of data standards, such as Darwin Core, which forms the basis for the bulk of GBIF.org’s index of hundreds of millions of species occurrence records. Publishers provide open access to their datasets using machine-readable Creative Commons licence designations, allowing scientists, researchers and others to apply the data in hundreds of peer-reviewed publications and policy papers each year. Many of these analyses—which cover topics from the impacts of climate change and the spread of invasive and alien pests to priorities forconservation and protected areas,food security and human health— would not be possible without this.

Data found at VAL and GBIF are provided by a wide range of cooperating organizations, websites, individuals, community groups, citizen scientists, government agencies and others. VAL works closely with data providers to assist them to better capture, manage, and share biodiversity data.


Do you have time to help digitize old records? Stay tuned! We’ll post calls for help here.

Data Rescue Projects