Biological collections are replete with taxonomic, geographic, temporal, numerical, and historical information. This information is crucial for understanding and properly managing biodiversity and ecosystems, but is often difficult to access. Canadensys, operated from the Université de Montréal Biodiversity Centre, is a Canada-wide effort to unlock the biodiversity information held in biological collections.

In its initial phase, the network focuses on data from three of the most ecologically diverse and economically important groups of organisms: plants, insects, and fungi. Despite recent efforts, the number of fungal and insect species remains difficult to estimate and our knowledge of these groups is still relatively poor. At this point, the network includes 11 participating universities, five botanical gardens, and two museums, which collectively house over 13 million specimens.

We aim to digitize, publish and georeference 3 million specimens (20%) in our initial five years, via a network of distributed databases, compatible with the Canadian Biodiversity Information Facility (CBIF) and the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF). Collection managers will publish their data as Darwin Core, an internationally-accepted biodiversity information standard. A central web portal will allow access to the network’s specimen data (including images and geospatial information) in combination with other data such as names from the Database of Canadian Vascular Plants (VASCAN) and the Catalogue of Life.

By enabling the publication of these data, Canadensys will allow for their synergistic cross-analysis with geospatial and environmental models. This will enhance both our understanding of global environmental issues and the development of sound biodiversity policies across the country.