Exploring Trends in the Source of US Bee Data in GBIF
Understanding how the sources of the data have changed over time.
There is a growing body of scientific research that uses data from the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), which is a giant repository of biodiversity data compiled from a multitude of sources.
On one hand, this offers unique opportunities to access reams of previously inaccessible data. On the other hand, the data is rife with biases and idiosyncrasies that can potentially lead to spurious conclusions.
A while ago I posted a Twitter thread criticizing some of the conclusions of a high-profile paper on bee declines that relied on GBIF data. I delved into the data on the genus Perdita and concluded that for many species that were not found recently, it was due to shortage of taxonomists and lack of digitized bee data. Ultimately I think that for Perdita, and likely many other bee groups, GBIF data is insufficient to detect declines because there simply isn’t enough of the right kind of data to tell if bees are declining or not.
That paper is certainly not alone in using GBIF data to draw broad conclusions. However, I focus on it because it is one of the most high-profile ones and it has been highly cited in the scientific literature and widely reported in the popular media. It also provides easily accessible data that allows for deeper exploration and the authors should be commended for making the data and code available. This is in contrast to many studies that do not make their data easily available, which creates a barrier to scientific progress, though it may shield them from criticism.
Exploring bee data trends in the United States
During my exploration of the Perdita data, I also examined some broader patterns of the source of GBIF data in the United States as a whole. I never shared it at the time, but I have decided to put it here because I think it tells an interesting story that also has implications for others who may want to use GBIF data to examine bee trends.