Internet-based Biodiversity Database Workshop April 24 - 27, 2000


The Biological and Conservation Data System

Margaret Beer

Information Manager, Montana Natural Heritage Program

The Biological and Conservation Data System (BCD) was developed and distributed by The Nature Conservancy in the late 1980s. Building upon the DOS-based Advanced Revelation software platform, BCD provided a menu-driven system for managing information on the "elements" of biological diversity (e.g., species, communities), their status, location, and condition, along with multiple associated data files (approximately 30 files in total).

BCD has been in use by virtually all heritage programs and CDCs in the US, Canada and Latin America and has been the foundation for the heritage network's common data structure. From the perspective of the Montana program, BCD has been a stable, flexible system that still functions well a decade after its installation.

Portions of BCD are centrally-managed by ABI (formerly TNC) staff; in particular, those files and fields containing information related to a species or community throughout its range (for example, global ranks and distribution data). Individual heritage or CDC programs manage information on elements within the program's jurisdiction, and maintain jurisdiction-level rank, distribution, and associated data. Information is exchanged between individual programs and the central databases every 12-16 months on a rotating schedule.

While BCD has served programs well over the past decade, its shortcomings have required work-arounds. For example, most if not all programs within the Heritage Network have had to develop some type of GIS component to BCD, typically accomplished by exporting latitude-longitude values for element locations in order to create coverages. Species or community populations that are stream-based, patchy, extend over large areas, or otherwise defy representation by a point location present their own challenges, resolved in a variety of ways by programs. Also, the Advance Revelation application was designed by intention to be fairly opaque, and most users were unable to modify data structures or develop add-ons. As a result, many programs have created associated data bases in MS-Access, dBase, Oracle, etc. in order to meet local data needs.

Overall, BCD has had a unifying effect on the Heritage Network. Common terminology, record keys and data structures have enabled network-wide data sharing. BCD's replacement, referred to as the Heritage Data Management System (HDMS) is currently being developed by ABI with release anticipated within the next 18 months. This is a critical time for the network, as many programs find themselves obligated to move away from BCD in order to meet host-agency standards, or as new staff join programs and find the DOS-based systems too cumbersome to use. By emphasizing the common network goal of data sharing, then merging and using the data in a web-based distributed data application, we can help ensure standards are set and met, keep programs unified in their information management, and possibly avert the risk of diverging data systems.