Shared Practices for Creating ecocomDP Data"

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This document assumes you understand the ecocomDP model. To learn about the model and its scope, refer to the Model Overview Vignette and the Ecological Informatics Article.


This document delineates the practices that all creators of ecocomDP formatted datasets should adopt in order for the community to build a cohesive and interoperable collection. It contains detailed descriptions of practices, definitions of concepts, and solutions to many common issues.

Early sections address important considerations for anyone thinking about converting source datasets to the ecocomDP model, then focus shifts to an examination of the model components in greater detail. These shared practices are written with the intention to help simplify the conversion process.

If you are new to the conversion process, we recommend reading the Getting Started and Concepts sections, reviewing the Create and Model Overview vignettes, and referring back to this document as questions arise. A thorough understanding of the ecocomDP model and some foundational concepts will greatly simplify the conversion process.

Each ecocomDP dataset (Level-1; L1) is created from a raw source dataset (Level-0; L0) by a unique conversion script. Inputs are typically from the APIs of data repositories and monitoring networks, and outputs are a set of archivable files. The derived ecocomDP dataset is delivered to users in a consistent format by read_data() and the conversion script provides a fully reproducible and automated routine for updating the derived dataset whenever a new version of the source data are released.


Getting Started {#getting_started}

Identifying a candidate L0 dataset

Not all source datasets are good candidates for ecocomDP. Features of a good candidate include datasets that:

Understanding the L0 dataset

A thorough understanding of the L0 dataset is required before actually performing any transformations. To gain understanding of an L0 dataset we recommend:

Major issues at this point may suggest the amount of work required to convert the L0 dataset to the ecocomDP model is not worth it.

Resolving issues

After gaining a sufficient understanding of the L0 dataset, you are ready to assess, and hopefully resolve, any issues that are obvious from the start. To help draw out some of these apparent issues, you may want to create a high-level plan for combining the L0 tables (i.e. Row-wise bindings or joined with shared keys?) and mapping their columns to the L1 ecocomDP model. Here are some solutions (ordered by priority) for resolving issues at this stage in the creation process:

  1. Work with the L0 author/manager to fix the issues - Fixing the issue here both communicates best practices for future data curation and immediately improves data quality.

    • If the L0 dataset contains a column entirely of NAs, the conversion script should be written so that the L0 variable will populate the correct L1 table if it is ever filled in a future revision.
    • When the structure of the L0 dataset (column names, codes used for species, etc.) prevents optimal L1 dataset creation, proceed with writing the conversion script and then provide feedback to the L0 author/manager. Ensure that your conversion script will have the functionality to handle revisions to the L0 dataset.
    • Make use of the message() function to alert ecocomDP script maintainers to sections of code that could improve in future L0 dataset updates.
  2. Modify L0 components - Modifying L0 components is only permitted in rare cases. This list highlights the L0 components and specific scenarios in which you should modify them:

    • Duplicate column names - Only change the L0 column names if they create conflicts during joins (i.e. two L0 tables having the same column names) or share the name with an L1 table's column name. In either case, always preserve the original column name. Append a prefix or suffix to the original column name so that it is distinct but still recognizable enough to be used as a reference to the L0 metadata.
    • Non-point locations - Currently, only point coordinates are accepted by the ecocomDP model; use the centroid of bounding areas if presented with non-point locations.
    • Datetime formats - Conversion of datetimes to the ecocomDP standard is required (e.g. YYYY-MM-DD hh:mm:ss or a subset thereof). Always combine Year, Month, Day, and time columns to the temporal level of observation (e.g. edi.334.2).
    • Missing value codes - Missing value codes that are explicitly declared in the L0 metadata should be converted to NA. When not declared but unambiguously interpretable as a missing value (e.g. “” in a comments field) then convert to NA. If it is ambiguous, don’t modify the L0 data.
    • Different temporal resolution among the L0 tables creates a joining/stacking issue. To solve it, assign the coarsest temporal resolution to the datetime field of all the L0 tables, then store the more precise datetime variables in the observation_ancillary table (e.g. edi.291.2).
  3. Omit L0 data - ecocomDP is a flexible model but can’t handle everything. Convert as much as possible and drop the remainder. If content is dropped, then describe what and why using comments in the conversion script. Some guidelines for when you should drop content:

    • If it is necessary to drop observations (rows), see the section Omitting rows.
    • If it can be derived from the preserved content (e.g. year can be derived from date, a taxa’s common name can be derived from its species name) then you can drop it from the L1 dataset if it does not fit the model (i.e. L1 data tables don’t pass validation).
    • If it is ancillary information to data in one of the L1 ancillary tables that does not have a simple one-to-one, row-wise relationship, then it is too far removed from the core content of the L1 dataset. (e.g. A temperature sensor collects environmental data that supports the core observations. This temperature data belongs in the observation_ancillary table. If maintenance information for the temperature sensor is included, it could be omitted from the L1 dataset because it cannot be linked to the temperature observations within the model.) However, if the data is so important that it shouldn’t be dropped, then append a suffix to the supporting data’s original variable name that references the ancillary data (e.g. ancillary data “Site” has supporting data “lat” and “lon”. The variables “Site”, “lat_Site” and “lon_Site” all belong in ancillary data).
    • Large surveys, sampling campaigns, and experiments will occasionally include information that is not central to the community ecology aspect of the L0 dataset (e.g. edi.115.2, edi.247.3). See the section Omitting tables to determine if or how you should omit entire data tables from the L1 dataset.

If the above options don’t solve the issue, then don’t convert it. There are many more datasets out there in the world to convert!

Omitting rows {#omitting_rows}

When an L0 dataset is really valuable, but issues with the dataset (e.g. changes in temporal or spatial resolution across observations; edi.251.2) prevent conversion, the best option may be to convert a subset of the observations to the ecocomDP format. Follow these steps for omitting rows from the L0 dataset:

Omitting tables {#omitting_tables}

You may decide that only a subset of the data tables within an L0 dataset are well-suited to the ecocomDP format. In this case you have the option to omit entire data tables and only convert those that will fit the model.

When determining which tables to convert and which to omit, first identify which table(s) contain the “core” observation information. This will be the backbone of the intermediate "flat" table. Once the flat table is instantiated around the core observation, determine the shared keys by which to join the other L0 tables. The following types of variables are examples of common keys shared between data tables:

If you encounter tables that can’t be joined to the core observation information, possibly because they focus on a different time/location/taxon entirely, omit these problematic tables. Apply the following changes to the conversion script to highlight the table omission:

Creating the Conversion Script

Write a conversion script to create an ecocomDP dataset from a standard set of minimal inputs (i.e. arguments to the create_ecocomDP() function). The conversion script should have some tolerance (i.e. error handling) for re-running the script at a later time on a changed source dataset. The script should utilize functionality that will either handle a revised source dataset or alert the ecocomDP script maintainers and provide them with enough information to quickly diagnose and fix any problems.

Currently, only the EDI Data Repository is recognized by the ecocomDP project. If you would like support extended to your data repository, then please place a request in the ecocomDP project issue tracker and we will add the supporting code to index and read ecocomDP datasets from your repository.

To convert an L0 dataset, implement the following processes in your conversion script:

For details on the processes within the conversion script, see the Create vignette.




Resolving Issues in the L1 Tables

Refer to this section to resolve specific issues while creating the L1 tables. For more in-depth descriptions on these tables and their columns, see the Model Overview vignette.


Store the core observations being analyzed in this table. Observations must be linked to a taxon and to a location. Linking to ancillary observations is optional.






Store identifying information about a place (longitude, latitude, elevation) in this table. This table is self-referencing so that sites can be nested.



latitude and longitude


taxon {#taxon}

Store identifying information about a taxon in this table.


Store summary info about the L1 dataset in this table.

observation_ancillary {#observation_ancillary}

Store ancillary information about an observational event for context (e.g. plot or transect identifiers, measurement times, environmental conditions, field notes, etc.).


Store additional information about a place that does not change frequently (e.g. lake area or depth, experimental treatment, habitat). Features that change frequently are more closely related to the observational event, and are thus kept in the observation_ancillary table. Ancillary observations are linked through the location_id, and one location_id may have many ancillary observations about it.


Store additional info about an organism that does not change frequently (e.g. trophic level). Features that change frequently are probably observations. Ancillary observations are linked through the taxon_id, which may have many ancillary observations about it.


Link information from the variable_name columns of the observation, observation_ancillary, location_ancillary, and taxon_ancillary tables to external definitions in this table. See Ontologies and Vocabularies section for details.

General Issues {#general_issues}

Other unforeseen issues with the L0 dataset may manifest themselves as you begin to create an ecocomDP (L1) formatted dataset. See the following suggestions for handling some common issues:

Concepts {#concepts}

Levels of Observation {#levels_of_observation}

A dataset often has multiple levels of observation (i.e. spatial scales of observation). Only one of those levels of observation is considered meaningful. We use the term “meaningful” to denote the finest spatial scale at which the observations are meant to be interpreted.

Determining the Meaningful Level of Observation

Using the Levels of Observation to assign location_id

We use the concept of meaningful level of observation to help assign location_ids:

Determining the Meaningful Level of Observation (Visual Examples) {#fig3}


Frequency of Survey {#frequency_of_survey}

The Frequency of Survey refers to the temporal frequency of events over the course of a study.

Determining the Frequency of Survey

Frequency of Survey (Visual Examples) {#fig4}


Value-Added Features {#value_added_features}

Value added information is anything that an ecocomDP creator intentionally adds to the L1 dataset to improve its findability, accessibility, interoperability, or reusability (see FAIR Principles). This information does not come from the L0 dataset directly, but instead is derived from it. Since the rule of thumb regarding L1 dataset creation is to rearrange but not alter the L0 dataset, supplementing a dataset with value added information must be done carefully and within the constraints of the following rules:

Ontologies and Vocabularies {#ontologies}

Natural observation vs. experiment/manipulation

Users commonly filter on these. If a study involves a human induced experiment/manipulation (i.e. not a natural experiment/manipulation, e.g. hurricane), then add "Manipulative experiment" as an annotation using the “is_about” argument of the create_eml() function, e.g.:

create_eml(..., is_about = c(`Manipulative experiment` = "")

For annotation of metadata and use in the variable_mapping table

Deprecating an L1 Dataset

Sometimes an L1 dataset needs to be removed from circulation. To do this for an archived L1 dataset, publish an identical revision of the dataset with the following changes added manually to the metadata:


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ecocomDP documentation built on Oct. 19, 2021, 1:08 a.m.