Botanists as well as researchers in many other branches of science use materials obtained from organisms as the base of their studies and subsequently store their research results in databases. Their source material often consists of samples taken from natural history collections, or it is vouchered in such collections to ensure proper identification of the organisms. This material includes plant, animal, or paleontological specimens in natural history collections, culture collections of microbial strains, botanical or zoological gardens, natural product collections, etc. In almost all of these fields, Europe owns the most extensive collections of such specimens worldwide. To facilitate access to these resources electronic inventories must be created. However, to ensure interoperability of present and future databases, common data models and standards are needed.
At the outset of the project, the objective of CDEFD ("A Common Datastructure for European Floristic Databases") was to develop project-independent structures to be used in the design of floristic databases and databases including floristic data. In the course of the project, this was extended to include biological collections in general, because it was realized that all objects or samples obtained from organisms share the same core data structure. The resulting datamodel will be published ( Berendsohn & al., 1996b) and it is available on the World Wide Web.
The present article is to describe the wider context of this model. Some consideration is given to the basic types of electronic data produced by biological investigations ("Studies") and to the basic classification of source materials ("Biological Objects") they act upon.