BETYdb Data Access

Table of Contents

  • Overview \ref{sec:overview}
    • Search Box \ref{sec:searchbox}
    • Details \ref{sec:searchdetails}
      • Basic Search \ref{sec:basicsearch}
      • Advanced Search \ref{sec:advancedsearch}
      • Example \ref{sec:searchexample}
  • BETY API for URL-based Queries and Data Download \ref{sec:betyapi}

Guide to accessing data from BETYdb \label{sec:overview}

What is covered here:

There are many ways to access data in BETYdb. This document is written for people who want to get data from BETYdb through either 1) the web interface search box or 2) the more powerful url-based methods of submitting queries. This url-based query is the basis of the rOpensci 'traits' package that allows users to retrieve data in R.

What is not covered:

While these methods allow users to access these data, some users may wish to use BETYdb actively in their research. If you want to contribute to BETYdb, see the Data Entry documentation. That document teaches users how they can curate their own data using BETYdb—either or as a distributed node on the BETYdb network that enables data sharing.

Many people who contribute data—and others who want to submit more complex queries—can benefit from accessing a PostgreSQL server. Users who want to install a a BETYdb PostgreSQL database (just ask!) are able to enter, use, and share data within and across a network of synced instances of BETYdb (see wiki "Distributed BETYdb"). This network shares data that has not necessarily been independently reviewed beyond the correction of extreme outliers. In practice, data sets in active use by researchers have been evaluated for meaning by researchers. Expert knowledge encoded in the 'priors' table, in the PEcAn meta-analysis models and the Ecosystem models parameterized by the meta-analysis results.
Users with access to a BETYdb PostgreSQL database can access data through R packages, in particular PEcAn.DB which is designed for use in PEcAn or 2) any programming language a scientist is likely to use. When not using PEcAn, I recommend the R package dplyr unless you prefer joins in SQL.

Data Sharing

Data is made available for analysis after it is submitted and reviewed by a database administrator. These data are suitable for basic scientific research and modeling. All reviewed data are made publicly available after publication to users of BETYdb who are conducting primary research.

If you want data that has not been reviewed, please request access. There are many records that are not publicly available through the web API, but that can be installed as a PostgreSQL database.

Access Restrictions

All public data in BETYdb is made available under the Open Data Commons Attribution License (ODC-By) v1.0. You are free to share, create, and adapt its contents. Data with an access_level field and value <= 2 is is not covered by this license, but may be available for use with consent.

Quality Flags

The checked value indicates if data has been checked (1) is unchecked (0) or identified as incorrect (-1). Checked data has been independently reviewed. By default, only checked data is provided through the web interface and API; as of BETYdb 4.4 (Oct 14 2015) users can opt-in to download unchecked data from the web search interface and API. Unchecked data (0) is also available as a PostgreSQL database (as easy as ./

Please cite the source of data as:

LeBauer, David; Dietze, Michael; Kooper, Rob; Long, Steven; Mulrooney, Patrick; Rohde, Gareth Scott; Wang, Dan; (2010): Biofuel Ecophysiological Traits and Yields Database (BETYdb); Energy Biosciences Institute, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The Advanced Search Box

Most tables in BETYdb have search boxes, for example and We describe below how to queried and downloaded these pages as .csv, .json, or .xml. The advanced search box is the easiest way to download summary datasets designed to have enough information (location, time, species, citations) to be useful for a wide range of use cases.

Search Box \label{sec:searchbox}

On the welcome page of BETYdb there is a search option for trait and yield data (Figure \ref{fig:textsearch}). This tool allows users to search the entire collection of trait and yield data for specific sites, citations, species, and traits.

The results page provides a map interface (Figure \ref{fig:mapsearch}) and the option to download a file containing search results.

The downloaded file is in CSV format. This file provides meta-data and provenance information, including: the SQL query used to extract the data, the date and time the query was made, the citation source of each result row, and a citation for BETYdb itself (to be updated on publication) (Figure \ref{fig:excelresults}).

Instructions: Using the search box to search trait and yield data is very simple: Type the site (city or site name), species (scientific or common name), citation (author and/or year), or trait (variable name or description) into the search box and the results will show contents of BETYdb that match the search. The number of records per page can be changed to viewer preference and the search results can be downloaded in the Excel-compatible CSV format.

(Figure \ref{fig:textsearch})

The search map may be used in conjunction with search terms to restrict search results to a particular geographical area or even a specific site by clicking on a map. Clicking on a particular site will restrict results to that site. Clicking in the vicinity of a group of sites but not on a particular site will restrict the search to the region around the point clicked. Alternatively, if a search using search terms is done without clicking on the map, all sites associated with the returned results are highlighted on the map. Sites, species and traits can be searched further by clicking on or near highlighted locations on the map (Figure \ref{fig:accessmaps}). The color of each site indicates which sites match the search terms. Results can be downloaded by clicking the "Download Results" button on the upper right hand corner of the page.

(Figure \ref{fig:mapsearch})


Basic search: Searching from the Home Page\label{sec:basicsearch}

  1. Go to the home page
  2. Enter one or more terms in the search box. The search will succeed if (and only if) each term in the search box matches one of the following columns of the traits_and_yields_view: sitename, city, scientificname, commonname, author, trait, trait_description, or citation_year. Thus, the more terms entered, the more restrictive the search. Note that a search term matches a column value if it occurs anywhere within the text of that column value and that matches are case-insensitive. Thus, the term "grass" would match a row with commonname column value "switchgrass" or "tussock cottongrass", a row with site name "Grassland Soil & Water Research Laboratory", or a row with trait description "for grasses, stem internode length". There is no way to restrict which of the eight match columns a given term is matched against except perhaps by makeing the term itself more specific; in the example just given, typing "cottongrass" rather than just "grass" would make in more likely that only the match against the commonname column would succeed.
  3. Click the search icon next to the search box (or press the ENTER key). This will take one to the search results/advanced search page and show the result of the search.

Advanced search: Searching from the Advanced Search page\label{sec:advancedsearch}

  1. From the home page, you can get to the advanced search page simply by typing search terms into the search box and clicking on the search icon. (Or just click the search icon without entering any terms. Or enter the URL for the advanced search page directly:
  2. The search will return results for both traits and yields.
  3. Enter one or more terms in the main search box. As with basic searches, each term must match one of the eight searched columns.
  4. Search results are updated as you type, but you may press the Enter key to do a formal search form submission; this will reload the page and update the URL in the browser address box to include all of the parameters of your search.


  1. Go to
  2. Task 1 (simple search): Search for sugarcane yields — Enter the search string "sugarcane Ayield" in the search box.
  3. You will see a new page with a table of results showing data about sugarcane yields.
  4. Task 2 (advanced search): Limit results to a specific site — We just want to see the results for the 'Zentsuji' site. Add a space and the word 'Zentsuji' to the search box.
  5. You will see only the sugarcane yields for the 'Zentsuji' site.
  6. Task 3 (advanced search): Limit results to a specific trait — We only want to see the results concerning stem_biomass instead of annual yield. Replace the word 'Ayield' with the word 'stem_biomass' in the search box.
  7. The resulting table rows all concern stem biomass data for sugarcane at the Zentsuji site.