Where Should I Start?

TDWG warmly welcomes all newcomers, regardless of background. We are always seeking input from biologists, taxonomists, librarians, zoologists, entomologists, ecologists, geneticists, information technologists...whatever.

In TDWG, we realize that Internet standards are increasing in complexity, and want to help those who are not techie gurus in biodiversity informatics. We value your expertise and provide this page as the place to start learning about TDWG and its work.

If you want information and can't find it on our sites, please email secretariat(at)tdwg.org.

How Can I Participate?

Firstly, if you haven't already, register on the TDWG site.  This is free, and will allow you to post comments on the discussion spaces, get news, subscribe to notification services, and to generally start your involvement with TDWG.

We had created a Wiki for beginners to add ideas, needs, gripes, comments, accolades, wishes, observations...whatever.  It is now archived at Github.  It's also available in the Wayback Machine.

TDWG has a constitution (boring but needed), and far more importantly, a process for the creation of groups and standards. This process guides how we do things, but we are always open to finding more effective and efficient ways  ways of developing standards.

There are Standards, Activities by TDWG groups and discussion spaces on the TDWG web site. If you are interested in any area of TDWG work, join one of TDWG's groups. Everyone is welcome, and you don't need to be an expert!

We'd also like you to consider becoming a member of TDWG, either individually or institutionally. TDWG really needs your support.

What Does (and Doesn't/Couldn't/Shouldn't) TDWG do?

TDWG, the Taxonomic Database Working Group (terrible but quirky name that has stuck!) started with a group of predominantly botanists trying to rationalize their databases. With the advent of the Internet, TDWG now focuses on the development, adaption or adoption of standards that enable biodiversity data to be shared between organizations.

For insights into TDWG from an insider, see Jim Croft's PPT presentation from TDWG 2008: "TDWG: are we going wrong, or just not quite right"? Jim, a long time TDWG member is the Deputy Director Science and Information at the the Australian National Botanic Gardens, Canberra.

Another entertaining presentation by Chuck Miller (Chief Information Officer, Missouri Botanical Garden) gives a good insight into TDWG and biodiversity informatics issues: "Data Exchange Standards – The Case for Being Stupidly Simple  (PPT)."

A TDWG Overview

There is an excellent video introduction to TDWG and a one-page Word document summarizing the case for sharing biological data using TDWG standards (41kb).

Additional introductory material includes-

Introductions to TDWG Activities

Below are brief and hopefully simple introductions to a range of TDWG standards that at different stages of acceptance and use.  All standards have their place. You would use a particular TDWG standard based on what type of data you want to publish, and what sort of infrastructure and resources you have. 

Biological Descriptions

TDWG has a standard called SDD (Structure of Descriptive Data) that can be used to standardize the descriptions of any character of any type of organism. There is a primer on SDD that is very readable.

Kevin Thiele gave a definitive 'Introduction to biological descriptions' (PPT) at TDWG 2008 in Fremantle. Software such a LUCID use the SDD standard.

Collections of Similar Data

TDWG's standard for describing a group of records that have a similar theme is called Natural Collections Descriptions (NCD). There is an introductory document about NCD. There is even a collection of collections project called the Biological Collections Index.

Collections or Observations data

If you want to provide data about specimens in a collection or observations where a species has been located, TDWG has two standards that are in use within the community.  These standards provide guidance on which fields you should aim to deliver from your organization when you are providing this type of data.

  • Access to Biological Collections Data (ABCD) - a very comprehensive standard for use in providing information on specimens in collections
  • Darwin Core (DwC) - a less comprehensive but still a very flexible standard for use in providing information about organisms. This is the TDWG standard that is currently the most widely used.


TDWG has a geospatial group that interacts strongly with the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC). As with images, location often forms an extremely important aspect of biodiversity information. Where is this species found? Identification of 'Invasiveness' for example is largely dependent on a thorough knowledge of an organisms natural range.

Globally Unique Identifiers

How do we uniquely identify something on the Internet in a way such that is consistent and aligns with Web2.0/Semantic web technologies? TDWG has adopted the Life Science Identifier (LSID) from OMG as an appropriate standard for use in Biodiversity Informatics.

A video illustrates the utility of LSIDs and there are additional documents that may be useful-


Images and video are a highly valued data types when it comes to describing organisms or displaying associated locations. TDWG has a multimedia group that has started to develop a standard on how multimedia data could be handled.

More information on what TDWG is doing with multimedia via Bob Morris and Vishwas Chavan's presentaiton "The relationship of the GBIF Multimedia Resource Task Group to the presentations and to the aims of the TDWG Image Interest Group  (PPT | PDF).

Projects such as EoL, Morphbank and a host of other sites demonstrate the utility of images.


Phylogenetics is new to TDWG. Nico Cellinese and Hilmar Lapp lead a discussion at TDWG 2008 and gave a presentation about a TDWG Interest Group on Phylogenetics Standards  (PPT).

Serving Biodiversity Data to the World

If you want to share your data with the world, we suggest you take a look at TDWG Access protocol for Information Retrieval (TAPIR). Renato DeGiovanni (the TAPIR originator) gave a great presentation -'An Introduction to Data Exchange Protocols in TDWG (PPT | SWF)' at TDWG 2008.

There is also an excellent video that you are certain to enjoy.

Taxonomic Concepts

TDWG's work focuses on organisms. Names for organisms such as Eucalyptus elata are however just a label. Has the label always been the same for this organism? Are there more labels for this organism? Is this label applied to more than one organism? Has this organism ever been incorrectly labelled? The answer to all of these questions is "Yes"! This is taxonomy.

How do we try to untangle the names used to label organisms? We use  Taxonomic Concepts. There is a simple introduction to TCS (Taxon Concept Schema). Rich Pyle gave a very informative introduction to 'Taxonomic Names of Organisms' (PPT) and TDWG 2008.

The Architectural Base for TDWG's Standards

TDWG is moving towards a systematic structure for underpinning the development of all of its standards. This is called TDWG's Standards Architecture. This architecture is designed to cross link all of TDWG's activities and embrace what many call Web2.0 technologies: The Semantic Web. For those who don't know anything about Web2.0, take a look at this video. It is awesome.

Roger Hyam (Convener of the Technical Architecture Group (TAG) in TDWG) lead the development of a TAG Roadmap. This document provides a good introduction to TDWG Standards Architecture.

Significant International Projects

Below are a few presentations about biodiversity informatics project using TDWG standards-

GBIF: From Prototype Towards Full Operation (PPT)

Éamonn Ó Tuama, Vishwas Chavan, Markus Döring, Samy Gaiji, David Remsen and Tim Robertson


Michael Giddens

The Encyclopedia of Life

Cynthia Parr

DataNetOne: A Distributed Environmental Data Archive (PPT)

Matt Jones

European Distributed Institute of Taxonomy (EDIT) (PPT)

Walter Berendsohn

Biological Collections Index (BCI) (PPT)

Roger Hyam

Key2Nature (PPT)

Wouter Addink

  Last Modified: 12 April 2016