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A decision tree for assessing the risks and benefits of publishing biodiversity data


Inadequate information on the geographical distribution of biodiversity hampers decision-making for conservation. Major efforts are underway to fill knowledge gaps, but there are increasing concerns that publishing the locations of species is dangerous, particularly for species at risk of exploitation. While we recognize that well-informed control of location data for highly sensitive taxa is necessary to avoid risks, such as poaching or habitat disturbance by recreational visitors, we argue that ignoring the benefits of sharing biodiversity data could unnecessarily obstruct conservation efforts for species and locations with low risks of exploitation. We provide a decision tree protocol for scientists that systematically considers both the risks of exploitation and potential benefits of increased conservation activities. Our protocol helps scientists assess the impacts of publishing biodiversity data and aims to enhance conservation opportunities, promote community engagement and reduce duplication of survey efforts.

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A.I.T.T. was supported by an Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Researcher Award DE170100599. E.B., G.E., N.P.L. and L.R. were supported by the Australian Government National Environmental Science Programme’s Threatened Species Recovery Hub. N.P.L. was partially funded by Bush Heritage Australia. N.B. was supported by an Australian Research Council DECRA DE150101552. TERN (A.K.S.) is supported by the Australian National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy. R. Alcorn (eBird), T. Laity (Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy), S. Murphy and A. Kutt (Bush Heritage Australia) provided feedback on early drafts. J. Miller and R. Fuller contributed to early discussions.

Author information

A.I.T.T. led the development of the risk assessment and decision tree with contributions from all authors to the final decision protocol. All authors provided ideas and critical feedback, and co-wrote the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Correspondence to Ayesha I. T. Tulloch.

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Fig. 1: Decision tree for publishing biodiversity data from monitoring and surveying.