The QAECO reproducibility dream

Today’s theme for Love Your Data Week 2017 is “documenting, describing, defining”.

Investing time to document your research is one of the best things you can do to help ensure your data remain understandable and useable many years after the end of a project. Here we highlight one group at the University of Melbourne with big plans for digital preservation.

QAECO (What is QAECO?)

QAECO is the Quantitative & Applied Ecology Group at the University of Melbourne, “a diverse bunch of ecologists who work across a wide spectrum of taxa and environments from frogs to flowers and deserts to desktops”.

What’s this “dream” about?
To establish a long-term repository set up for “indefinite” preservation of ecology data, particularly data from past lab members (e.g. students who have left the group). Long-term preservation of data in this field will enable reuse, and is important especially because these data are difficult to reproduce. The data are of enduring value to researchers in this discipline, especially as currently there is a lack of long-term ecological data.

What kind of data is involved?
Lots of different types of data are used in this research. Field surveys give data on plants, animals, and their local environments. Data loggers give weather data, GPS tracking collars are used, they use camera traps, and also aerial footage from drones. There is a transition underway from written questionnaires to electronic surveys. Sound recorders are used in the field, and this process is also transitioning to automatic classification and analysis. There’s also lab notes, field notes, documents and reports.

What’s the situation now?
For future long-term preservation of research data, the group is focused on getting a repository set up, and setting some minimum metadata standards. The idea is to specify what’s needed now to ensure that raw data are interpretable and accessible into the future. There are also plans to develop data policies and procedures for the group so that there are clearly defined responsibilities and guidelines for long term data preservation.