Recording wildlife became a popular pastime during Victorian times and, as a result, natural history societies began popping up around the country. As time and technology progressed, the activity of biological recording has adapted and there are now many recording schemes, methods of record submission and types of organisation. However, the first question that any biological recorder needs answered is what constitutes a biological record?
In order for any biological record to be accepted it must have four basic components:
Who – The name of the recorder or determiner.
What – The name of the organism or group of organisms that you are recording.
Where – The location where the organism was observed.
When – The date the organism was observed.
Combining these four pieces of data produces a record of the presence of an organism at a specified time and place by a named individual, also known as a biological record.
The data quality of a biological record can be improved by ensuring the basic components are recorded at higher resolutions: the more specific the information, the higher the record quality. Examples for each of the basic components are given below
Who – Provide the full name of the recorder and/or determiner, as opposed to an organisation or institution name. This allows for any queries regarding the record to be directed to the correct individual.
What – The more specific the taxonomic classification, the better. For example, a record of a red squirrel is of higher quality than a record of a mammal. However, biological recorders should only classify organisms to a level they are confident is accurate.
Where – Provide the highest accurate geographic resolution you can. Using the UK Ordnance Survey system an 8 figure grid reference details that the organism occurred within a 10 m by 10 m square, whereas a 4 figure grid reference would only detail that the organism occurred within a 1 km by 1 km square.
When – As with location information, the finer the resolution the higher the data quality. Providing a specific date is more desirable than just the year of the record.
Additional Biological Record Information
The organisms on our planet differ greatly, some are fixed to a location while others are able to travel great distances. Some organisms are long lived and present year-round, while others have relatively short life cycles or inactive periods that render them difficult to record at certain types of year.
Different recording schemes will ask for different additional information to be included within the biological record dependent upon the ecology of the organism or the objectives of the scheme. Additional information also improves the data quality of the biological record and provides information that may help answer questions belonging to the fifth, and most important, component: why.
Example additional information fields could include habitat, abundance and life stage of the organism. These may or may not be compulsary information fields for acceptance of the biological record to a specific survey or recording scheme.
In summary, a biological record is a summary of four simple data components. Its data quality, and subsequent uses, can be improved by ensuring these components are recorded at the highest accurate resolution and by the addition of any other relevant information to the record.
Keiron Derek Brown
2nd January 2016