Ecological Metadata Language

OBIS (and GBIF) uses the Ecological Metadata Language (EML) as its metadata standard, which is specifically developed for the earth, environmental and ecological sciences. It is based on prior work done by the Ecological Society of America and associated efforts. EML is implemented as XML. See more information on EML.

OBIS uses the GBIF EML profile (version 1.1). In case data providers use ISO19115/ISO19139, there is a mapping available here.

For OBIS, the following 4 terms are the bare minimum: Title, Citation, Contact and Abstract. Below is an overview of all the EML terms used to describe datasets:



The IPT requires you to provide a Shortname. Shortnames serve as an identifier for the resource within the IPT installation (so should be unique within your IPT), and will be used as a parameter in the URL to access the resource via the Internet. Please use only alphanumeric characters, hyphens, or underscores. E.g. largenet_im in After creating a new dataset resource, the field titel will be filled out with the short name you provided earlier. Please make sure you provide a dataset title following the guidelines below.

Dataset titles provided to OBIS node managers are often very cryptic, such as an acronym, and often only understandable by the data provider. However, to increae the discoverability and be useful for a larger audience, the dataset title should be as descriptive and complete as possible. OBIS recommends titles to contain information about the taxonomic, geographic and temporal coverage. If the dataset title does not meet these criteria and you believe the title should be changed, then contact the data provider with a suggestion or ask for a more descriptive title. If the dataset has already been published (made publicly available) - and therefore known by that title elsewere, then the same title should be kept (even if it would not meet the proposed guidelines)! Changing the title of an already published dataset cannot be done, as this will generate confusion and possible duplicates in systems like OBIS or GBIF in a later stage.

The acronym or working title could still be documented in the metadata, so there is no confusion about how the full title is linked to the originally provided acronym or working title.

:exclamation: Always consult the data provider when changing a dataset title to a more workable and descriptive version.

Originally received title     Title Recommended by Node Manager
-------------------------     ---------------------------------
BIOCEAN                       BIOCEAN database on deep sea benthic fauna
Biomôr                        Benthic data from the Southern Irish Sea from 1989-1991
Kyklades                      Zoobenthos of the Kyklades (Aegean Sea)
REPHY                         Réseau de Surveillance phytoplanctonique


The abstract or description of a dataset provides basic information on the content of the dataset. The information in the abstract should improve understanding and interpretation of the data. It is recommended that the description indicates whether the dataset is a subset of a larger dataset and – if so – provide a link to the parent metadata and/or dataset.

If the data provider or OBIS node require bi- or multilingual entries for the description (e.g. due to national obligations) then the following procedure can be followed:


The Louis-Marie herbarium grants a priority to the Arctic-alpine, subarctic and boreal species from the province of Quebec and the northern hemisphere. This dataset is mainly populated with specimens from the province of Quebec. / L’Herbier Louis-Marie accorde une priorité aux espèces arctiques-alpines, subarctiques et boréales du Québec, du Canada et de l’hémisphère nord. Ce jeu présente principalement des spécimens provenant du Québec.

People and Organizations

The EML has several possible roles/functions to describe a contact, creator, metadata provider and associated party.

The contact is the person or organization that curates the resource and who should be contacted to get more information or to whom questions with the resource or data should be addressed. Although a number of fields are not required, we strongly recommend providing as much information as possible, and in particular the email address. This will also be the contact information that appears on the OBIS metadata pages.

The creator is the person or organization responsible for the original creation of the resource content. When there are multiple creators, the one that bears the greatest responsibility is the resource creator, and other people can be added as associated parties with a role such as ‘originator’, ‘content provider’, ‘principle investigator’, etc.

Possible functions/roles:

If the resource contact and the resource creator are identical, the IPT allows you to easily copy the information.

The metadata provider is the person or organization responsible for producing the resource metadata. If the metadata are provided by the original data provider, then his/her contact details should be filled in. If no metadata are available (e.g. for historical datasets, with no contact person), then the metadata can be completed by e.g. the OBIS node manager and the OBIS node manager becomes the metadata provider.

The Associated Parties contains information about one or more people or organizations associated with the resource in addition to those already covered on the IPT Basic Metadata page. For example, if there would be multiple contact persons or metadata creators, they can be added in this IPT section. The principle contact/creator should, however, be added in the IPT Basic Metadata section. It is recommended to complete this section together with the IPT Basic Metadata page, to avoid confusion or overlap in added information.

Possible functions/roles for associated parties are:


The owner of a dataset will, in most cases, be an institute, and not an individual person. Although the fields ‘last name’, and ‘position’ are indicated as mandatory fields, it is possible to just add the institute name in the ‘last name’ field for the role ‘owner’.

The contact persons in the metadata (contact, creator, metadata creator) are used in the dataset citation (auto-generation) and those added as ‘associated parties’ are not included as “co-authors”.

License and IP Rights

OBIS has published its guidelines on the sharing and use of data here. The recommended licenses for datasets published in OBIS are the Creative Commons Licenses (CC-0, CC-BY, CC-BY-NC), of which CC-0 is the most preferred at CC-BY-NC is least preferred. A Creative Commons license means:


Geographic Coverage

The IPT allows you to enter the geographic coverage by dragging the markers on the given map or by filling in the coordinates of the bounding box. In the description field, a more elaborate text can be provided to describe the spatial coverage indicating the larger geographical area where the samples were collected. For the latter, the sampling locations can be plotted on a map and – by making use of a Gazetteer – the wider geographical area can be derived: e.g. the relevant Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), IHO, FAO fishing area, Large Marine Ecosystem (LME), Marine Ecoregions of the World (MEOW), etc. The Marine Regions’ Gazetteer might prove to be a useful online tool to define the most relevant sea area(s). There are also LifeWatch Geographical Services that translate geographical positions to these wider geographical areas.

The information given in this section can also help the OBIS node manager in geographic quality control. If the geographic coverage in the EML e.g. is “North Sea”, but a number of data points are outside of this scope, then this may indicate errors, and should be checked with the data provider.

If the dataset covers multiple areas (e.g. samples from the North Sea and the Mediterranean Sea), then this should clearly be mentioned in the geographicDescription field. Note that the IPT only allows one bounding box.

Taxonomic Coverage

This section can capture two things:

  1. A description of the range of taxa that are addressed in the data set. OBIS recommends to only add the higher classification (Kingdom, Class or Order) of the involved groups (e.g. Bivalvia, Cetacea, Aves, Ophiuroidea…). You can easily draw a list of higher taxonomic ranks from the WoRMS taxon match service (or ask the data provider). The taxonomic coverage is not a mandatory field, but the information stored here can be very useful as background information. The description can also contain common names, such as e.g. benthic foraminifera or mussels.
  2. An overview of all the involved taxa (not recommended, as all the taxa are already listed in the dataset).

Note OBIS also recommends to add information on the (higher) taxonomic groups in the (descriptive) dataset title and abstract.

Temporal Coverage

The temporal coverage will be a date range, which can easily be documented. If it is a single date, the start and end date will be the same. The information added here can be used as a quality check for the actual dates in the datasets.


Relevant keywords facilitate the discovery of a dataset. An indication of the represented functional groups can help in a general search (e.g. plankton, benthos, zooplankton, phytoplankton, macrobenthos, meiobenthos …). Assigned keywords can be related to taxonomy, habitat, geography or relevant keywords extracted from thesauri such as the ASFA thesaurus, the CAB thesaurus or GCMD keywords.

As taxonomy and geography are already covered in previous sections, there is no need to repeat related keywords here. Please consult your data provider which (relevant) keywords can be assigned.


If the dataset in this resource is produced under a certain project, the metadata on this project can be documented here. Part of the information entered here, can partly overlap with information given in other sections of the metadata (e.g. study area description can have lot of parallel with the geographic coverage section). This is not a problem.

Sampling Methods

The EML can contains descriptions of the sampling and data processing methods. Note that OBIS best practice is to add sampling facts to the extended MeasurementorFact extension, linked to the sampling events in the EventCore.


The dataset citation allows users to properly cite the datasets in further publications or other uses of the data. The OBIS download function provides a list of the dataset citations packaged with the data in a zipped file. A dataset citation is different from the data source citation (in case the data is digitized from a publication), and these references can be added to the additional metadata (see bibliography below). A dataset citation can have the same format of a journal article citaiton, and should include the authors (contact, creator, principle investigator, data managers, custodians, collectors…), the title of the dataset, the name of the data publisher (or custodian institute), and the access point URL to the resource.

GBIF’s IPT has an auto-generation - Turn On/Off - tool to let the IPT auto-generate the resource citation for you. The citation includes a version number, which is especially important for datasets that are continuously updated. The dataset citation can also include a Citation Identifier - a DOI, URI, or other persistent identifier that resolves to an online dataset web page.

The OBIS node data managers should try to implement a certain degree of format standardization for the dataset citations. The IPT provides an option to auto-generate a citation based on the EML and is formatted as follows: {dataset.authors} ({dataset.pubDate}) {dataset.title}. [Version {dataset.version}]. {organization.title}. {dataset.type} Dataset {dataset.doi}, {dataset.url}


The EML can include the citation of the publications that are related to the described dataset. They can describe the dataset, be based on the dataset or be used in this dataset. Publications can be scientific papers, reports, PhD or master theses. If available, the citation should include the DOI at the end.

This overview will contribute to a better understanding of the data as these publications can hold important additional information on the data and how they were acquired.

Collection Data

This IPT section should only be filled out if there are specimens held in a museum. If relevant, it is strongly recommended that this information is supplied by the data provider or left blank.

External Links

This section can include URLs to the resource homepage, to download or find additional information.

Links to the online dataset on the OBIS website can be added once the data is available there. For these OBIS links, the required fields should be completed as follows:

If other links are added, then the data format for web-based data is ‘html’. If the link refers to a file, the data format of the file will need to be added (e.g. .xlsx, .pdf …). The character set for all Darwin Core files is UTF-8, whereas for other web pages this can vary.

Additional Metadata

In order for OBIS to harvest the dataset, the field additionalInfo should contain “marine, harvested by iOBIS”. This is particulary important for OBIS nodes that host non-marine datasets which should only go to GBIF (and not OBIS).

Any remaining information that could not be catalogued under any of the other metadata, can be mentioned here.