INQUA Working Group on Data-Handling Methods

Newsletter 7: January 1992


Jacques-Louis de Beaulieu
Joel Guiot
Labo. Botanique Historique
Faculté de St. Jérome
13397 Marseille CEDEX 13

Rachid Cheddadi
Banque Europeenne de donnees polliniques
Centre Universitaire Espace Van Gogh
13637 Arles

A European Pollen Database (EPD) is now being developed to provide for all palynologists a permanent archive of the basic data generated by pollen analysts in Europe, a tool for further research on palaeoecological and biogeographical problems at a variety of temporal and spatial scales, and a primary data-source for furthering our understanding of past environmental history at a time when research on Global Change is becoming increasingly important.

The European Pollen Database project is centralized in Arles, France. Its personnel consist of a post-doctoral scientist (R. Cheddadi) working closely with Joel Guiot and Jacques-Louis de Beaulieu. The EPD has an Executive Committee responsible for overseeing the development of the project and for finding further financial support for the project. There is also an Advisory Board responsible for protocols, assisting with pollen-taxonomic and related problems, and arbitration in any disputes between contributors, users, or coordinators. The composition of the Executive Committee is currently Brigitta Ammann, Jacques-Louis de Beaulieu and Brian Huntley. The Advisory Board consists of Karl-Ernst Behre (Wilhelmshaven), John Birks (Bergen), Elizaveta Bozilova (Sofia), Maria Follieri (Rome), Marie-Jose Gaillard-Lemdahl, George Jacobson Jr., Roel Janssen (Utrecht), Meilute Kabailiene (Vilnius), Magdalena Ralska-Jasiewiczowa (Cracow).

The Advisory Board have resolved that data compilation shall give priority to sites that formed part of the IGCP 158B sub-project.

It was agreed that high data quality must be guaranteed, and that high taxonomic standards and sound radiocarbon chronologies were essential. The database must contain the data in their entirety for all sites contributed. The data to be compiled and stored will extend far beyond the pollen counts. Precise details of the site location, the present vegetation surrounding the site, the sediment lithology, the chronology, all bibliographic details relating to published accounts of the site, and the name(s) and address(es) of the worker(s) who sampled and analyzed the site will be included in the database.

The database coordinators must cooperate closely with the contributors, with regional advisors and groups and with the Advisory Board in order to resolve pollen-taxonomic questions. Appropriate protocols are in progress for these purposes.

The protocols for the database were discussed and agreed by the Advisory Board at its meeting of the 22nd September 1990 at Wilhelmshaven. In the event that it becomes necessary to modify them in the future, all database contributors and users will be notified and the changes will be published in a Newsletter.

At present there are three directly related database subprojects and one indirectly related database project. The three subprojects are concerned with specific geographical areas or temporal aspects and were, at their outset, designed to be integral components of the EPD. They consist of:

  1. Eastern Mediterranean database coordinated by Sytze Bottema (Groningen) as part of the EPOCH project on Global climate change of the last 30,000 years.
  2. 9000 - 15,000 B.P. ("late-glacial") of Europe coordinated by Annabel Gear and Brian Huntley (Durham) as part of their project on European Palaeoclimate during the last deglaciation.
  3. Last interglacial of Europe coordinated by Mike Field, Phil Gibbard (Cambridge) and Brian Huntley, as part of their project on Palaeoclimate and vegetation development during the last interglacial in Europe.
The indirectly related project is the Alpine database. This is part of a larger project specifically focussed on long-term vegetational dynamics in the Alps and immediate surroundings coordinated by Brigitta Ammann (Bern). It was not originally designed to be an integral component of the EPD. However it is attempting to achieve the maximum possible compatibility with the EPD in terms of database design, software, etc.

The initiation of other regional or thematical database groups are in progress.

Following discussion, it was decided to use the relational database package PARADOX (version 3.5) to build the database. This software is widely available and runs on IBM PC-compatible computers under DOS; it is also being adopted by the North American Pollen Database, thus application software developments can be shared.

The EPD closely collaborates with the NOAA NGDC American pollen database project coordinated by Eric Grimm and John Keltner, particularly in connections with computer software development.

In January 1991 the first Newsletter including a questionnaire has been sent to European Quaternary palynologists. To-date 90 respondents have offered data from different parts of Europe and already 440 sites situated in more than 20 countries have been offered.

In order to compile and record all of this information a series of data recording sheets was prepared and sent to contributors.

The teams involved in the technical management of the database and in the compilation of data (Arles, Cambridge, Durham and Springfield) have spent much of the last six months solving software problems and laying foundations for the data compilation that is now underway.

The PARADOX table structure has been modified in several respects in the light of experience and to facilitate the preparation of scripts that will allow the data in the tables to be manipulated and/or queried more efficiently. Scripts to prepare the empty tables have been written and the tables are now in use as data compilation has gotten underway.

The EPD is now ready to welcome in Arles all scientists who wish to be trained in the software and programs used by the database. The first data release is estimated to be available in about one year from now following the EPD protocol.

Support was obtained from the European Science Foundation that will enable the Executive Committee to organize a workshop meeting on "Computer management of pollen data in relation to human impact and climatic changes" that will take place in Arles in the spring of 1992. These funds will enable some younger scientists from central and eastern Europe, as well as the Advisory Board, to attend the meeting and will afford the opportunity for some of these workers to extend their stay in Arles by a few days to be trained in the use of the E.P.D. software available at that time. The Advisory Board will meet during the workshop to deal with EPD business. A particular matter that requires attention is that of the synonymy and hierarchic relations of the pollen taxa listed to-date. It will probably prove necessary to organize working group meetings to deal with some aspects of this problem.

The funding obtained from the EC allowed launching the database for the first two years. The Advisory Board has now to insure the survival of the database structure after that period.

Protocols for the European Pollen Database
22nd September 1990 - Wilhelmshaven
  1. Data
    1. Data must consist of the original counts, not percentages or digitized data.
    2. Database must contain the original taxonomic identifications, with exceptions of exact nomenclatural synonymy. Taxa will not be lumped into higher taxonomic groups in the database.
    3. Data will be classified as unrestricted or restricted. All data will be available in the database. In other words, the central database will distribute all data, restricted and unrestricted. Thus, restricted data can be viewed by a user, but cannot be used except as provided below.
    4. Unrestricted data are available for all uses.
    5. Restricted data may be used only by permission of the data originator. Appropriate and ethical use of restricted data is the responsibility of the data user.
  2. Contributors
    1. Can declare data unrestricted or restricted.
    2. Can ask to verify that data in the database are correct. As a matter of general policy, the central database should routinely return to the data originator a hardcopy printout of the data as they are entered in the database for optional verification by the originator.
    3. May use any unrestricted data.
    4. Can obtain copies of application software and the database itself for use on his/her own computer.
    5. Should receive a periodic newsletter or report concerning the database.
    6. Can ask at any time that his/her data be withdrawn from the database or that their status (unrestricted or restricted) be changed.
    7. In the case of a dispute regarding inappropriate use of restricted data, the Advisory Board will serve as arbitrator.
  3. Users
    1. Must ask permission from the data originator for use of restricted data.
    2. Should, as a matter of courtesy, inform data originators of the uses being made of their data.
    3. If the contributor wishes, should show the contributor results of analyses and manuscripts for publication for critical comment.
    4. Should cite, in any publication using data from the database, the contributors' original publications describing their data.
    5. Should send contributors reprints of publications that use their data.
    6. Should acknowledge contributors for use of unpublished data and for any advice they may have provided.
    7. No user can pass data on to another party. All users must obtain data from the central database.
    8. Normal ethics apply to co-authorship of publications. The contributor should be invited to be a co-author if a user makes significant use of a single contributor's data, or a single contributor's data comprise a substantial portion of a larger dataset analyzed, or a contributor makes a significant contribution to the analysis of the data or to the interpretation of the results. This guideline applies to unrestricted as well as to restricted data.
    9. The data are available only to non-profit-making organizations and for research. Profit-making organizations may use the data, even for legitimate uses, only with the written consent of the Advisory Board, who will determine or negotiate the payment of any fee required.
  4. Executive Committee and Database Coordinators
    1. Should prepare a periodic newsletter or report about every six months for contributors, users, the Advisory Board, etc.
    2. Must follow the same protocols that apply to all other users concerning the use of data.
    3. Must closely cooperate with the data originator and/or relevant Advisory Board member(s), regional correspondents or taxonomic advisors when making taxonomic decisions.
    4. Should assemble a mailing list of Quaternary palynologists in Europe and others associated with European data, and should inform them of the opportunity to contribute to and participate in the database development. In addition, should announce the development of the database in appropriate newsletters and publications.
    5. Should incorporate all data into the database, subject to certain minimum requirements, without assignment of quality.
    6. Should organize workshops on matters related to the database and should work to facilitate acquisitions of hardware and software by laboratories not having access to these.
    7. Should send the protocols to all potential contributors and users.
In addition to abiding by these protocols, the database compilers and coordinators have agreed that they will regard all data that are added to the database as restricted (see above) until they appear in a version of the database that has been released to other users.
Copyright © 1992 Jacques-Louis de Beaulieu, Joel Guiot and Rachid Cheddadi
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