Question: How can quantitative data from vegetation surveys best be assembled in a large regional vegetation database? What effects have intellectual property rights concerns of individual and institutional data holders on data contribution and how can incentives to contribute data be generated?
Location: West Africa, with discussion of a possible approach to dealing with property rights concerns being of wider interest.
Methods: The management of data property rights in the West African Vegetation Database was developed based on consultations with institutions and scientists in five West African countries over 2 years. It was agreed in two successive Memoranda of Understanding.
Results: The West African Vegetation Database addresses property rights concerns by leaving the control over data access with the data owners, and provides incentives to build a distributed research community by fostering data sharing.
Conclusion: We present a potential solution to the problem of intellectual property rights issues being an impediment to data sharing and the compilation of large regional vegetation databases. The data property rights management approach implemented in the West African Vegetation Database provided incentives for the contribution of recently acquired and unpublished data. Numerous phytosociological and dendrometric vegetation surveys have been made available by institutions and individual researchers for regional-scale analyses. The structures developed may serve as a model for regional-scale vegetation databases in collaborative settings involving multiple data owners.