Question: Collaborative research efforts and synthetic vegetation analyses are often limited by difficulties in sharing or combining datasets. Can we facilitate these activities by means of an exchange standard for plot-based vegetation data?
Methods: In 2003, the Ecoinformatics Working Group and the Council of the International Association for Vegetation Science endorsed the development of a standard exchange schema for vegetation-plot data. In 2007, a first workshop was held to formulate a common set of goals, concepts, and terminology for plot-based vegetation data. At a second workshop in 2008, this ontology was developed into an XML (extensible markup language) schema representation designed to be maximally compatible with existing standards and databases.
Results: The exchange standard for plot-based vegetation data (Veg-X) allows for observations of vegetation at both individual plant and aggregated observation levels. It ensures that observations are fixed to physical sample plots at specific points in space and time, and makes a distinction between the entity of interest (e.g. an individual tree) and the observational act (i.e. a measurement). The standard supports repeated measurements of both individual organisms and plots, allows observations of entities to be grouped following predefined or user-defined criteria, and ensures that the connection between the entity observed and taxonomic concept associated with that observation are maintained.
Conclusions: Establishment of exchange standards followed by development of ecoinformatics tools built around those standards should allow scientists to efficiently combine plot data over extensive spatial and temporal gradients in order to perform analyses and make predictions of vegetation change and dynamics at local and global scales.