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Sensitive species data

Sensitive species observations are observations of species that have been classified based on current threats at different protection levels. Access to data for the most sensitive taxa is restricted to protect the species from harmful human activity that could arise if those data were publicly available.

Calypso bulbosa orchid in Swedish Lapland. © Grahame Soden / CC-BY-SA-4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Species sensitivity is judged on the basis of current threats. Species are assigned a protection level corresponding to the degree of risk and impact of harm. Classification of species also involves weighing the advantages of making data publicly available against the risks that may be associated with it. Although in general it is good practice to make data on species observations openly available, some species can be threatened by this due to disturbance or collection, or even persecution or extermination attempts, and these species are deemed to need protection. Classifying sensitivity of taxa aims to minimize risks from threats that can arise by making data on species occurrence publicly available. Details like exact location and date are therefore hidden from public view. The exact geographical coordinates of the recorded location are generalized at a scale corresponding to the protection level (5 km, 25 km or 50 km).

How does SBDI handle sensitive species observations?

Accessing data on sensitive species

In the SBDI Bioatlas sensitive species observations are flagged and information about how data have been generalized and which data is withheld is given. SBDI tools do currently not handle permissions for access to sensitive data. All requests for access to sensitive data have to be made directly to the data provider. A mechanism for receiving and handling these requests via the SBDI Bioatlas is due for development in 2021-22.

Permission to access observations of sensitive species can be granted when information is needed for the protection of the species, e.g. to administrators at public authorities working with nature conservation, or under certain conditions to NGO’s, consultancies and researchers.

Publishing data on sensitive species

The responsibility for handling sensitive data falls ultimately on the data provider who can choose whether to publish data on sensitive species. SBDI then helps to handle sensitive species observations before making information on sensitive species openly available. Data can be published through GBIF’s IPT or via the Species Observation System (SOS) and become available through the SBDI Bioatlas, see also the ‘Publish and Share Data‘ page.

SOS automatically applies the national principles established by the SLU Swedish Species Information Centre (SLU Adb). Observations of nationally protected species are made openly available only generalized, with sensitive information withheld.

At current, for data that are published via GBIF’s IPT bear in mind that species observations for which information is not withheld or generalized by the data provider become openly available at GBIF. Although SBDI will regularly check datasets published through the IPT for potential sensitive data using checklists and directives provided by SLU Adb, this does not free data providers from their responsibility in not sharing sensitive data.

Before data become available through the SBDI Bioatlas the Bioatlas implements its own sensitive data handling system, according to customized rules. Sensitive data can then be proceeded using list of sensitive species nationally protected in Sweden and the same principles established by SLU Adb. The rules applied to sensitive data can also be expanded by, e.g., a list of sensitive international species observations. For example museum data sets may contain records of species not classified as nationally protected in Sweden but threatened in other part of its range, making it necessary to classify data from this region as sensitive.

For data that are published via the IPT a mechanism for handling sensitive data automatically according to the provided rules before publishing the data to GBIF is due for development.

Please contact the SBDI Support Center for more information and help regarding the handling of sensitive species data.

Classification of sensitive species in Sweden

Classification of sensitive species in Sweden is done by SLU Adb in consultation with species expert committees. More information about classification of sensitive species, the list of sensitive species, protection levels and access to observations of sensitive species can be found on SLU Adb’s web page, in Swedish: Nationellt skyddsklassade arter. The list of sensitive species nationally protected in Sweden can also be found at GBIF.

The national principles applied by SLU Adb are similar to those recommended by GBIF: Current Best Practices for Generalizing Sensitive Species Occurrence Data.