ABCD: Access to Biological Data Collections

A data and metadata specification for the exchange of biological collections and observations data


The Access to Biological Collections Data (ABCD) is an XML-based common data specification for biological collection units, including living and preserved specimens, along with field observations that did not produce voucher specimens. As stated on the ABCD website: "The purpose of the ABCD Task Group is to foster accessibility of existing and emerging biological collection data banks at the international level by developing and maintaining a comprehensive and commented schema for biological collection records (ABCD Schema). In the process, it promotes standardization of the terminology used to model biological collection information and provides a general format for data exchange and retrieval for biological collections". It is a relatively comprehensive standard, holding almost 1200 elements, though very few are mandatory, and the specification is designed to be implemented in a modular way, with users taking a subset of components relevant to their particular type of data.


Content Standard for data and metadata

Stage of Maturity

Existing - the item is available for public use, has been released or widely adopted, and is sponsored or maintained.  

It has been ratified by Biodiversity Information Standards (TDWG).  


ABCD originated with TDWG, and since 2001 has been expanded through a collaboration between TDWG (now called Biodiversity Information Standards) and CODATA (the International Council for Science: Committee on Data for Science and Technology).


The TDWG/CODATA Task Group on Access to Biological Collection Data


GBIF (the Global Biodiversity Information Facility) uses ABCD as one of its data standards. It was originally developed for and used by the BioCASe (Biological Collection Access Service for Europe) project, whose funding has now ended. The SYNTHESYS project, a consortium of European natural history collections that began in 2009, is using ABCD within its network.


The ABCD Wiki has an ABCD Primer and other documentation available.


At the time this page was written (see date at bottom of page), Version 2.06 was the current version.


 A typical example for a botanical specimen collected in Turkey.


The Integrated Publishing Toolkit (IPT), which is the currently preferred information retrieval protocol of GBIF, can operate with ABCD-formatted data (as well as with Darwin Core data). TAPIR and BioCASe are older protocols for exchanging ABCD-formatted data. Both are still supported by GBIF, and used in BioCASE portals.

Mappings to Other Standards

Mapping of Darwin Core and its extensions (incl. OBIS) to ABCD 2.06
Draft mapping of OECD-MDS (culture collections standard) to ABCD [valid for v.1.30]
Draft mapping of EURISCO descriptors (plant genetic resources) to ABCD 2.06 (PDF)
Mapping of HISPID 3 to ABCD 1.49d

content last reviewed 2010-03-02