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Large-scale studies are needed to increase our understanding of how large-scale conservation threats, such as climate change and deforestation, are impacting diverse tropical ecosystems. These types of studies rely fundamentally on access to extensive and representative datasets (i.e., "big data"). In this study, I asses the availability of plant species occurrence records through the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) and the distribution of networked vegetation census plots in tropical South America. I analyze how the amount of available data has changed through time and the consequent changes in taxonomic, spatial, habitat, and climatic representativeness. I show that there are large and growing amounts of data available for tropical South America. Specifically, there are almost 2,000,000 unique geo-referenced collection records representing more than 50,000 species of plants in tropical South America and over 1,500 census plots. However, there is still a gaping "data void" such that many species and many habitats remain so poorly represented in either of the databases as to be functionally invisible for most studies. It is important that we support efforts to increase the availability of data, and the representativeness of these data, so that we can better predict and mitigate the impacts of anthropogenic disturbances.


Originally published in PLoS One.

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