‘Living’ figures

8 07 2021

Have you ever constructed a database and then published the findings, only to realise that after the time elapsed your database is already obsolete?

This is the reality of scientific information today. There are so many of us doing so many things that information accumulates substantially in months, if not weeks. If you’re a geneticist, this probably happens for many datasets on the order of days.

While our general databasing capacity worldwide has improved enormously over the last decade with the transition to fully online and web-capable interactivity, the world of scientific publication still generally lags behind the tech. But there is a better way to communicate dynamic, evolving database results to the public.

Enter the ‘living figure’, which is a simple-enough concept where a published figure remains dynamic as its underlying database is updated.

We have, in fact, just published such a living figure based on our paper earlier this year where we reported the global costs of invasive species.

That paper was published based on version 1 of the InvaCost database, but a mere three months after publication, InvaCost is already at version 4.

My clever and forward-looking colleagues took the initiative to create a living figure of the taxonomic and geographic distribution of costs arising from invasive species.

Between version 1 and version 4, we accumulated about 30% more data, raising the total estimated costs already by 1.6×. The costs that can be unambiguously attributed to a taxonomic group grew by a whopping 21.3× for plants (US$8.9 billion to US$190 billion), 1.7× for vertebrates (US$166 billion to US$284 billion), and 1.1× for invertebrates (US$416 billion to US$462 billion).

Taxonomic distribution of costs of biological invasions

I love this concept, and the relative ease with which it was implemented. I hope that more database-based figures end up becoming living figures.

CJA Bradshaw


Please cite the living figure as:

Leroy B, Diagne C, Angulo E, Ballesteros-Mejia L, Adamjy T, Assailly C, Albert C, Andrews L, Balzani P, Banerjee AK, Bang A, Bartlett A, Bernery C, Bodey T, Bradshaw CJA, Bufford J, Capinha C, Catford J, Cuthbert R, Mbacké Dia CAK, Dimarco RD, Dobigny G, Duboscq V, Essl F, Fantle-Lepczyk J, Golivets M, Gozlan R, Haubrock PJ, Heringer G, Hoskins A, Hudgins E, Jarić I, Jourdain F, Kirichenko N, Kourantidou M, Kramer A, Leung B, Liu C, Lopez E, Manfrini E, Moodley D, Novoa A, Nuñez A, Nuninger L, Pattison Z, Renault D, Rico-Sanchez AE, Robuchon M, Roiz D, Salles JM, Taheri A, Tambo J, Taylor N, Tricarico E, Turbelin A, Vaissière AC, Verbrugge L, Watari Y, Welsh M, Xiong W, Courchamp F. 2021. Global Costs of Biological Invasions: Living Figure. https://borisleroy.com/invacost/invacost_livingfigure.html


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