Biological collections are brimming 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 make the biodiversity information held in biological collections accessible to everyone.

In its initial phase, the network focused 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. Canadensys has since expanded to also publish other kinds of biodiversity data such as species checklists, many of which include estimates of species richness. Some of these resources include data on species new to science.

Our initial goal was to digitize, publish and georeference 3 million specimens (20%), via a network of distributed databases, compatible with the Canadian Biodiversity Information Facility (CBIF) and the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF). The network now includes over 11 participating universities, five botanical gardens, and two museums, which collectively house over 13 million specimens. Collection managers openly publish their data as Darwin Core, an internationally-accepted biodiversity information standard. A dynamic, central web portal allows access to the network’s specimen data (including images and geospatial information) as well as searchable checklists of up-to-date scientific names from the Database of Canadian Vascular Plants (VASCAN).

By enabling the publication of these data, Canadensys facilitates cross-analyses of species occurrence data within geospatial and environmental models. This enhances both our understanding of global environmental issues and the development of sound biodiversity policies across the country.