Spurred by urgent needs for easily accessible open data, and aided by advances in technology, the past decade has seen large investments in new large-scale online scientific databases and digital libraries. In biodiversity sciences, for example, the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) has now scanned and digitized at very high quality more than 40 million pages mentioning more than 1.2 million forms of life. The Encyclopedia of Life (EOL), which links to BHL, includes content on more than 1.3 million of the approximately 1.9 million named species. These resources are already providing ready reference material for scientists around the world. However, can they enable larger-scale informatics approaches to biodiversity science?
The papers in this Collection are the outcome of a new kind of intense face-to-face event called a research sprint, designed to accelerate discoveries in this domain using these specific online resources, but likely to be more broadly useful. It was modeled after hackathons, which have been highly successful at producing new tools and promoting collaborative, open source software and communities. However, the primary aim of a research sprint is to produce scientific research results rather than informatics tools and algorithms. Of course, new tools and techniques may be needed to achieve research goals, but the focus on biological research (in this case) insures that these are only developed where existing tools don’t exist. As with hackathons, education and networking are also important.
The Collection is seeded by publications from the 2014 EOL-BHL Research Sprint, hosted by the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in Durham, NC and funded primarily by the Lounsbery Foundation. Also included will be a report on the methods used in the research sprint. The PeerJ Collection will grow over time to highlight the variety of kinds of research that EOL and BHL can support, including large scale ecological analyses, studies of evolutionary pattern, and conservation-related studies.