Content Standard for Digital Geospatial Metadata, Part 1: Biological Data Profile

Project Title

Metadata Content Standard for Biological Resources Data

Date of Proposal

December 9, 1996; Revised: February 19, 1997

Type of Standard Proposed

Metadata Content Standard, user-defined profile of FGDC Content Standards for Digital Geospatial Metadata

Submitting Organization

U.S. Geological Survey, Biological Resources Division

Point of Contact

Maury Nyquist, USGS, Center for Biological Informatics, Denver, CO (303)202-4217


The purpose of this proposed standard is to provide a user-defined or theme-specific profile of the FGDC metadata content standard for geospatial data to increase its utility for documenting biological resources data and information. This standard will thus support increased access to and use of biological data among users on a national (and international) basis. It will also help to broaden the understanding and implementation of the FGDC metadata content standard within the biological resources community.


This standard will be used to specify metadata content for the full range of biological resources data and information. This includes biological data which are explicitly geospatial in nature, as well as data which are not explicitly geospatial (such as data resulting from laboratory-based research). It also includes "information" categories, such as research reports, field notes or specimen collections.


The USGS Biological Resources Division (BRD) is charged with fostering a broad cooperative effort for sharing of biological resources information: the National Biological Information Infrastructure (NBII). As a component of the National Information Infrastructure and a biological complement to the NSDI, NBII functions as a widely distributed federation of biological data and information sources. A key element in fostering development of a distributed federation of biological data and information is the availability of a standardized approach to metadata documentation that is adapted for use by the biological science community. Although the Federal Geographic Data Committee's (FGDC) metadata content standard provides excellent documentation of a data set from the geospatial perspective, it is limited and, in some aspects, inadequate, for describing data from the biological science perspective. For example, one consistent need in describing different biological data sets so that they can be compared, shared, integrated, etc. is to document the necessary bio-systematics aspects of the data (i.e., taxonomy and nomenclature for species and higher taxonomic groups). Mutual understanding of what species are being discussed (or at least which classification system is being used to classify and name the species) is basic. Obviously, the existing FGDC geospatial metadata standard was not designed to focus on this type of community-specific requirement.

In addition, a significant portion of the available body of biological resources data and information was not collected or intended to be applied in a way that is explicitly geospatial, for example, data resulting from in vitro laboratory research. Rather than have these types of "non-geospatial" data and information be documented using an entirely different metadata content standard, BRD wanted to provide, as part of the NBII, an inclusive biological metadata standard that could be used to describe biological data and information in all its forms.

Therefore, the BRD has identified a need for a special profile version of the of the FGDC geospatial metadata content standard that incorporates all elements of the base standard, while adding user-defined elements to this "base" standard that will support its implementation within the biological sciences user community. The benefits to this approach include support for further development of the NBII biological data federation, and broader understanding, acceptance, and implementation of the FGDC metadata standard to an important community.

In the clearinghouse arena, any metadata created with the proposed biological resource metadata standard should function in harmony with metadata created in compliance with the FGDC's geospatial metadata standard. Search tools developed for FGDC- compliant metadata should function identically on standard biological resource metadata. In addition, the proposed standard will allow for searching the additional biological information documented, such as on biological taxonomy and nomenclature.

Development Approach

BRD has taken the following approach to developing the proposed biological resource metadata standard. At the end of 1994, BRD (then, NBS) assembled a small ad hoc work group, composed of NBS specialists familiar with the FGDC metadata standard, as well as representatives from the FGDC and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This group started with the FGDC standard, extracting key or core elements from it that pertained equally to data that are explicitly geospatial, as well as those that are not explicitly geospatial. Then additional elements were added to these core elements of the FGDC standard to provide needed coverage for biological resource data. These elements were also evaluated in the context of USMARC. The result was a basic structure (architecture) and elements for the Biological Resource Metadata Standard (i.e., a strawman standard).

BRD then commissioned the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS), a leading national professional society representing a cross-section of the biological science disciplines, to conduct an expert peer review of the strawman standard from the point of view of its completeness and utility for the biological science community. In May 1995 AIBS convened a panel of national biological science experts to review and analyze the draft standard. The panel released a draft report and recommendations in July 1995, which was then reviewed by BRD and its partners and cooperators. The panel's final report and recommendations were released in September 1995. BRD then used the recommendations of the AIBS review (and the results of limited test implementations) in revising the strawman standard. The resulting Draft Content Standard for NBII Metadata was originally presented to the FGDC Standards Working Group in January 1996 for formal consideration.

Related Standards

As a user-defined profile, the proposed biological resource metadata content standard is dependent upon the completion of the revision of the FGDC geospatial metadata standard which is currently underway. Depending on the outcome of the revision of the FGDC geospatial metadata standard, it may be necessary to make subsequent revision to the proposed biological resource metadata standard to ensure that it is fully compatible with new aspects of the FGDC standard (particularly as these apply to the development of user-defined profiles). The proposed biological resource metadata standard also relates to the vegetation, earth cover, soils, and wetlands classification standards which are currently under development.

Development and Completion Schedule

As noted above, the proposed biological resource metadata standard was originally presented for consideration by the Standards Working Group In January 1996. At that time, the SWG indicated that because this proposed standard was an enhancement of the FGDC geospatial metadata standard, formal action on the biological metadata standard would most appropriately be done after the revision of the FGDC geospatial metadata standard was completed. The SWG also indicated that since the design and structure of the proposed biological resource metadata standard was in agreement with the existing form of the FGDC metadata standard, it was acceptable for the BRD and its partners and cooperators in the NBII effort to begin implementation of the biological resource metadata standard in the interim.

Following the revision of the FGDC geospatial metadata standard, the BRD would make necessary revisions to the biological resource metadata standard to bring it into congruence and compatibility and would then present this revised version for formal review through the FGDC SWG process. It is anticipated that this revised version of the proposed standard could be presented to the SWG within six months of the end point of the current revision of the FGDC geospatial metadata standard.

Resources Required

This proposed standard has been developed using existing staffing and funding resources of the USGS BRD. It is anticipated that any necessary revisions to the proposed standard, based on the results of the current revision to the FGDC geospatial metadata content standard, can be completed using existing BRD resources.

Potential Participants

To date, the BRD has consulted with a broad variety of government and non-government agencies and organizations in the development and refinement of this proposed standard (e.g., American Institute of Biological Sciences, Ecological Society of America, The Nature Conservancy, Fish and Wildlife Information Exchange, Association of Systematics Collections, and several Federal agencies). Information on the standard was presented at the First IEEE International Metadata Conference in 1996 and at Eco-Informa 96.

We expect to continue to solicit involvement and input of all interested parties as the standard moves through the formal FGDC approval process.

Other Targeted Authorization Bodies: This proposed standard is not currently targeted for consideration by any other authorizing bodies. As a user-defined profile of the FGDC geospatial metadata standard, it is expected that this proposed standard (once approved by the FGDC) could be "linked" with the FGDC geospatial metadata standard in any subsequent authorization of that standard by ANSI, ISO, or other group.