Importance of timely metadata curation to the global surveillance of genetic diversity

Eric D. Crandall, Rachel H. Toczydlowski, Libby Liggins, Ann E. Holmes, Maryam Ghoojaei, Michelle R. Gaither, Briana E. Wham, Andrea L. Pritt, Cory Noble, Tanner J. Anderson, Randi L. Barton, Justin T. Berg, Sofia G. Beskid, Alonso Delgado, Emily Farrell, Nan Himmelsbach, Samantha R. Queeno, Thienthanh Trinh, Courtney Weyand, Andrew BentleyJohn Deck, Cynthia Riginos, Gideon S. Bradburd, Robert J. Toonen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Genetic diversity within species represents a fundamental yet underappreciated level of biodiversity. Because genetic diversity can indicate species resilience to changing climate, its measurement is relevant to many national and global conservation policy targets. Many studies produce large amounts of genome-scale genetic diversity data for wild populations, but most (87%) do not include the associated spatial and temporal metadata necessary for them to be reused in monitoring programs or for acknowledging the sovereignty of nations or Indigenous peoples. We undertook a distributed datathon to quantify the availability of these missing metadata and to test the hypothesis that their availability decays with time. We also worked to remediate missing metadata by extracting them from associated published papers, online repositories, and direct communication with authors. Starting with 848 candidate genomic data sets (reduced representation and whole genome) from the International Nucleotide Sequence Database Collaboration, we determined that 561 contained mostly samples from wild populations. We successfully restored spatiotemporal metadata for 78% of these 561 data sets (n = 440 data sets with data on 45,105 individuals from 762 species in 17 phyla). Examining papers and online repositories was much more fruitful than contacting 351 authors, who replied to our email requests 45% of the time. Overall, 23% of our email queries to authors unearthed useful metadata. The probability of retrieving spatiotemporal metadata declined significantly as age of the data set increased. There was a 13.5% yearly decrease in metadata associated with published papers or online repositories and up to a 22% yearly decrease in metadata that were only available from authors. This rapid decay in metadata availability, mirrored in studies of other types of biological data, should motivate swift updates to data-sharing policies and researcher practices to ensure that the valuable context provided by metadata is not lost to conservation science forever.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere14061
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation

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