Data worksheets

Finally, we get to the worksheets containing your actual data!

Field metadata

The top rows of the worksheet are used to provide metadata descriptors for each of the columns ('fields') in your data worksheet. Each descriptor row has a label, which must appear in Column A of the worksheet, with the value for each field appearing above that column.

The following are the mandatory field descriptors, which are needed for all fields and which cannot be blank.

  • field_type: This has to be one of the following values indicating the field type (see the options below).
  • description: a short description of the field .
  • field_name: the name of the variable. The name format should be suitable for loading into an analysis package and should not contain spaces: use an underscore (_) to put gaps in names. It definitely must not have white space at the start or end and it should only use standard ASCII characters. This descriptor must always be the last descriptor row, immediately above the data, so that it can be used as field headers when loading data from the file for analysis.

    If possible, please avoid numeric field names or field names starting with a number (e.g. 1 or 2day). Using names like this is not an error but can be an issue in some analysis packages.

There are also some additional field descriptors, which are mandatory for some data types (see the descriptions of the data types below). The options are:

  • levels: contains the set of level names used in a categorical variable.
  • method: a contain a short description of the method and equipment used to record numeric, abundance and trait data.
  • units: the units of numeric or trait variables.
  • taxon_name: the name of the taxon for which all of the trait or abundance data in a field is recorded. The taxon name must appear in the Taxa worksheet.
  • taxon_field: the name of a taxon field in the datasheet which shows the taxon for which trait or abundance data on that row is recorded.
  • interaction_name: a set of names giving the interacting taxa for interaction data .
  • interaction_field: a set of field names, where the rows of the field give the interacting taxa for interaction data.
  • file_container: a reference to an external data file name that is associated with a field.

These descriptors only have to be completed for the appropriate data types: leave them blank for any fields that don't require them.

Missing data

If your data worksheets contain missing data, you must enter 'NA' in those cells, not just leave them blank. This is to make it absolutely unambiguous that a given value is actually missing. We know this is picky but it can be absolutely vital: for example, does a blank cell in an abundance matrix mean that the species wasn't seen (so the cell should be zero) or that the trap for that species fell over and you don't know if it was recorded (so it should be NA).


You must not submit datasets with formula calculations - obviously, feel free to use calculations when working with the data but please copy and paste 'As Values' before submitting the dataset.

Row numbers

You must number the rows in your data worksheet. The row numbers must start at 1 in the cell directly under the field_name descriptor, increase by 1 as you move down through the cells and must continue down to the last row containing data. The row numbers must not extend below the data: the template numbers rows down to 1000, so delete the numbers for any unused rows in your data!

Field types

This section shows the options that can appear in the field_type descriptor, along with any further descriptors that might be needed. See the sections below for details on formatting, but the available types are:

  • Date, Datetime and Time: when were the data collected?
  • Location: where was the data collected?
  • Latitude, Longitude: GPS data for the exact location.
  • Replicate: a record of replication, usually just a repeating set of numbers.
  • ID: a column showing any kind of identification code.
  • Categorical: otherwise known as a factor: a variable that puts data into a fixed set of groups.
  • Ordered Categorical: a factor where there is a logical order to the levels.
  • Numeric: all kinds of numeric data.
  • Taxa: what taxa was the data collected from?
  • Abundance: for abundance/density/presence data collected about a taxon.
  • Categorical Trait: for categorical data collected on a taxon.
  • Numeric Trait: for numeric data collected on a taxon.
  • Categorical Interaction: for categorical data on interactions between taxa.
  • Numeric Interaction: for numeric data on interactions between taxa.
  • File: for references to external files in data tables.
  • Comments: for general comments about data.

Date, Datetime and Time

We have three kinds of date and time fields!

  • Datetime: The data in the field includes both a time and a date (e.g. 21/05/2016 15:32), which could be a visit time and day to a site or when a camera trap was deployed or similar data.
  • Date: The data in the field only specifies a date (e.g. 21/05/2016).
  • Time: The data in the field only specifies a time (e.g. 15:32).

We don't mind if dates and times are provided in separate fields or combined: you just need to be consistent within a field. You can provide date/time information either as text (which is quite common from data recorders and the like) or as Excel date/time formats but again you can only use one of these formats within a field.

  1. Text. If the field contains text values then the checker will try to interpret these as date/time values. We only support ISO8601 format, so the following are valid examples:

    • 2019-04-24T07:00: a datetime value
    • 2019-04-24: a date value
    • 07:00:12: a time value
  2. Excel date and time format. If the field contains Excel date/time cells then we will validate the contents of those cells.


Excel stores both date and time data as a single number and flags the cell as containing a date/time value. Both date and time are stored in Excel as a single number (N: days since the beginning of January 1900). If N < 1 it represents a time, if N > 1 it is a date and if N > 1 and has a fractional part then it is a datetime.

However, the cell level formatting of dates and times can mislead you as to what is actually stored in a cell and this is a common cause of errors.

  • 0.75 is the time 18:00, but it could also display in Excel as 00/01/1900 or 00/01/1900 18:00 if formatted as a date. This is reasonably easy to spot because of the 0th of January!
  • 12.75 is the datetime 12/01/1900 18:00 but could display as the time 18:00 or as 12/01/1900.
  • Unfortunately, integer values like 12 are ambiguous, because Excel doesn't differentiate between integer and float numbers: it could just refer to the day (the integer 12) or mean exactly midnight on the day (the float 12.0). So it could display perfectly sensibly as 12/01/1900 00:00 or 12/01/1900 but could also display more misleadingly as the time 00:00.


Columns of this type contain location labels showing where the data in the row was recorded. All of the labels must have been included in the Locations worksheet.


Columns of this type contain taxon names showing the taxon from which other data in the row was recorded. All of the values in the row must appear in the Taxon Names column in the Taxa worksheet.

You don't need to complete any other descriptors. In particular, there is no need to provide a list of accepted values: the entries are validated against the Taxa worksheet. This is different from Categorical variables, where a list of category levels is required (see below)

Replicate and ID

Both Replicate and ID fields could contain almost any values. Replicates are typically just shown with repeating numbers, but researchers could use other formats. ID can represent lots of things (for example, PIT tag numbers for individual organism, fine scale spatial sampling ID, batch number for reagents) and again could have almost any format.

So, both ID and Replicate fields are checked for missing data (NAs are permitted) but no other validation occurs.

Categorical data


Field descriptor levels required

Both categorical and ordered categorical data (also known as a factors) are made up of a set of levels showing the different groups or treatment. The data in the column then shows which level applies to each row.

In the levels descriptor, you must provide a complete set of all the levels used in the column, which will be checked against the data. The level names must be short text labels. Do not use integer level names: they are harder to interpret in statistical analyses and there is a real risk that they are analysed as a number by mistake.

The format is that the level names are separated using semi-colons (;). For example:


We automatically remove spaces around level labels, so these also work and might be easier to read:

Control; Logged; Burned 
Control ; Logged ; Burned

If the levels aren't obvious, we'd also like label descriptions: they come after each label, separated by colons (:). For example:

Control:sites in reserve forest;Logged:sites in logged forest;Burned:sites in burned forest

Do not use colons or semi-colons in your level names or descriptions!

For Ordered Categorical fields, the order of the entries in the levels descriptor should be the logical order of the factor. For example, an ordered disturbance gradient could be:

Primary:primary rainforest;Once:once logged rainforest;Twice:twice logged;Salvage:salvage logged;Oil palm:plantation

Numeric data


Field descriptors method and units required

This field type should be used to record numeric variables except numeric variables recorded from taxa (see Traits below). The method descriptor should include information about how the variable is measured and the units descriptor must provide the units used.

Not all numeric variables have methods or units: a column of replicate numbers, for example. If this is the case, enter None rather than leaving the descriptors blank. (If you prefer to use Dimensionless as the unit for dimensionless quantities then that is also fine!)

Abundance and trait data

Both traits and abundance data tie a value (category or number) to a single taxon. You need to format your data so that it is clear which taxon each value comes from. There are two possible formats:

  1. All observations in a column are from a single taxon: in this case, you can put a valid taxon name (see Taxa worksheet) in the taxon_name descriptor for this column.

Example: Observation counts in separate columns for each taxon

field_type Abundance Abundance
taxon_name Tiger leech Brown leech
method Exhaustive search of 50cm quadrat Exhaustive search of 50cm quadrat
description quadrat count quadrat count
field_name tiger_count brown_count
1 24 12
2 62 3
  1. Different rows in the column refer to different taxa: in this case, you must also have a Taxa column and the taxon_field descriptor needs to contain the field name of the appropriate Taxa column.

Example: Observation counts with different taxa in rows

field_type taxa Abundance
taxon_field common_name
method Exhaustive search of 50cm quadrat
description Species found Number found
field_name common_name leech_count
1 Tiger leech 24
2 Brown leech 12
3 Tiger leech 62
4 Brown leech 3

It is an error to provide both taxon_name and taxon_field descriptors for an Abundance or Trait field.



Field descriptors method and one of taxon_name or taxon_field required

Abundance is used here as an umbrella term to cover a wide range of possibilities from casual observation data ('We saw two clouded leopards on Friday on the road near F100'), through presence/absence data to precise measurements of abundances or encounter rate.

The method descriptor needs to provide a detailed description of the sampling method, including the area surveyed, the length of time spent sampling, the number of samplers and any equipment. This should be detailed enough to allow the sampling protocol to be replicated. If other columns provide sampling information, such as survey time or area, then make this clear.

Categorical trait


Field descriptors levels and one of taxon_name or taxon_field required

This is just a categorical variable where the groups apply to a taxa. So, we need information on the levels used, as for a standard categorical variable, and a link to taxonomic information as described in the examples above.

Numeric trait


Field descriptors units, method and one of taxon_name or taxon_field required

This is just a numeric variable where the groups apply to a taxa. So, we need the method and units for the values, as for a standard numeric variable, and a link to taxonomic information as described in the examples above.

Interaction data

Interaction data is essentially just a column of categorical or numeric data that you want to associate with (at least) two taxon identities, but there are lots of ways that the taxon identities could be provided.

Interaction data fields do this by using two alternative descriptors to tie the data to taxa: interaction_name and interaction_field. Each descriptor can provide one or more taxon names and optionally their role - the formatting is identical to the categorical data levels descriptors. So, for example an interaction_name descriptor might be:

Moon rat:prey;Clouded leopard:predator;

You can use one or both of the descriptors, depending on how your data is laid out. For the most common case of two interacting taxa, the following three possibilities exist.

  1. Both interacting taxa vary from row to row, so taxon names are provided in two fields

Example: Interacting taxa identified in separate columns

field_type Taxon Taxon Categorical Interaction
interaction_field predator;prey
levels success;failure
method Visual observation Visual observation Visual observation
description Predator observed Prey observed Outcome of predation event
field_name predator prey outcome
1 Clouded leopard Brown rat success
2 Flat headed cat Moon rat failure
  1. Alternatively, all of the data might refer to the same two taxa, so the taxon names can be provided directly.

Example: Interacting taxa constant

field_type Categorical Interaction
interaction_name Clouded leopard:predator;Brown rat:prey
levels success;failure
method Visual observation
description Outcome of predation event
field_name outcome
1 success
2 failure
  1. Finally, one side of the interaction might vary from row to row but the other side is constant for all rows.

Example: Interacting taxa identified by name and by column

field_type Taxon Categorical Interaction
interaction_name Clouded leopard:predator;
interaction_field prey:prey species;
levels success;failure
method Visual observation Visual observation
description Prey observed Outcome of predation event
field_name prey outcome
1 Brown rat success
2 Moon rat failure

You must provide at least two taxon names or fields, but you can provide more if you have tritrophic interactions! Again, you can use any combination of interaction names and fields to provide your taxon identities.

Categorical interactions


Field descriptors levels and interaction_name and/or interaction_field required

Numeric interactions


Field descriptors units, method and interaction_name and/or interaction_field required



Field descriptor file_container may be required

This type is used to provide references to information stored in external files. It can be used in two ways:

  1. The values in the data are direct references to external files provided in the Summary worksheet. The values in the field are checked against the list of external file names and they must all appear there. For example, if the Summary worksheet includes an external file row with My_raster_1.tiff and My_raster_2,tiff:
field_type Numeric File
description Altitude in metres DEM file used for altitude
method Extracted from DEM tiffs
units metres
field_name Altitude DEM
1 100 My_raster_1.tiff
2 200 My_raster_1.tiff
3 300 My_raster_1.tiff
4 400 My_raster_1.tiff
5 500 My_raster_2.tiff
6 600 My_raster_2.tiff
7 700 My_raster_2.tiff
8 800 My_raster_2.tiff
  1. The values in the data are files contained within an external file. In this case, the descriptor file_container is used to check the external file is present, but the values in the field are not checked. For example:
field_type Numeric File
description Altitude in metres Image of Quadrat
method Extracted from DEM tiffs
units metres
field_name Altitude Quadrat_image
1 100 Site_quadrat_1.jpg
2 200 Site_quadrat_2.jpg
3 300 Site_quadrat_3.jpg
4 400 Site_quadrat_4.jpg
5 500 Site_quadrat_5.jpg
6 600 Site_quadrat_6.jpg
7 700 Site_quadrat_7.jpg
8 800 Site_quadrat_8.jpg


If you have a free text field with notes or comments, then this is the field type to use. We don't really check anything in comments fields: they're not expected to be complete data and you can put anything in them.

A word of caution though: it is highly unlikely that anyone will ever read your comments column again. If there is genuinely important information that might apply across multiple rows, consider coding it as an explicit variable rather than consigning it to a comments field.