Symbiota Introduction

In this quickly changing world, there has developed a great necessity to learn about our world-wide biota at an increased rate. Scientists are predicting that future species declines will approach historical mass extinction levels within this century. We need to develop better tools to aid taxonomists, field biologists, and environmental educators. It is imperative that we increase our rate of conducting biological inventories, especially within the tropics, as well as steering youth toward becoming our future scientists. Symbiota web tools strive to integrate biological community knowledge and data in order to synthesize a network of databases and tools that will aid in increasing our overall environmental comprehension.

Since 2012 the use of Symbiota has greatly expanded, with 73% of projects funded by the US National digitization program (NSF-ADBC) using Symbiota. A total of 38 Symbiota portals have mobilized 11 million records from 412 “live” collections, while 26 million additional records are served from 354 “snapshot” data providers (see Appendix I). These 37 million records from 766 museums can be linked to images (> 5 million images to date), tissues, DNA sequence data, as well as other taxonomic and ecological information. Portals are organized by end user communities and are typically structured by a taxonomic and geographic theme. Portals encompass vascular plants, lichens, bryophytes, algae, fungi, invertebrates, and to a lesser degree vertebrates. For some larger institutions portals are designed to include all the museum and herbaria collections at that single institution.

Symbiota is an open source content management system for curating specimen- and observation-based biodiversity data. It is built on the premise that a collaborative partnership of biodiversity informaticians, collection managers, and biodiversity research communities will be most effective in creating high quality biodiversity research resources with publicly useful portals. Symbiota is driven by a suite of tools and modules that are integrated with an underlying SQL database installed on a web server. The open source software promotes use-driven code innovation built on the backend of Symbiota, extending functionality through API collaborations. The modular structure and the ease of visualizing and sharing data has fostered large and diverse end-user communities to provide comprehensive biodiversity information.

Symbiota has two fundamental and overlapping functions: (1) An online “database”  for data providers to enter and annotate biodiversity occurrence data and associated specimen data (e.g., genetic sequences, images, publications); and (2) A primary aggregator/publisher for any data provider, regardless of the software they use to enter and annotate data. Museums and herbaria that use Symbiota as an online “database” to enter and edit data are referred to as “live collections”, data providers that use another software platform as their primary database (e.g., Arctos) are referred to as “snapshot” collections. Both live and snapshot collections contribute to a portal by populating tables with information that is then used to help annotate incoming data and provide all users with more complete information on species. Finally, Symbiota automates the process of serving “live” data to global aggregators and the public through Darwin Core (DwC) archives.

In 2018, the NSF funded a new initiative to reconfigure the Symbiota code and produce “Symbiota2”. The goal of this project is to make the code more efficient, modular, and accessible to a number of software platforms. For more information, visit the Symbiota2 Project page.

An overview of Symbiota’s functions and impact was published by Gries, Gilbert & Franz. 2014. Biodiversity Data Journal 2: e1114.

To view the latest Symbiota Primer  Symbiota_June 2_2018

To learn more about the features found within the Symbiota Network, view our online webinars. 

To stay connected with other Symbiota users, join the Symbiota Google Group.

For questions about Symbiota or for Symbiota issues, contact our new Help Desk email:

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