'Names in November' workshop targets single shared species list

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Last month's “Names in November” workshop in Leiden, the Netherlands, assembled stakeholders directly involved in managing or producing the information on species names found in the Catalogue of Life, which hosted the event with GBIF. The meeting sought to secure commitments for a broad-based collaboration around the shared vision of a single, sustainable taxonomic backbone.

The workshop's goal was to develop a practical, community-based approach that can rapidly complete existing digital catalogues of published scientific names and deliver an expert-curated catalogue of the best-consensus accepted species for all taxonomic groups. Attendees confirmed the importance of handling type specimen information, linking to publications, and accommodating both common vernacular names and alternative schemes for referencing taxonomic units that lack formal descriptions.

Together, these datasets would deliver one all-encompassing open-access taxonomic “backbone” that the expert community can maintain and own while providing an essential information service to the broader user community. GBIF and the Catalogue of Life have already taken major steps towards this goal, along with major natural history museums and independent biodiversity initiatives such as the Encyclopedia of Life, the Biodiversity Heritage Library and Barcode of Life Data Systems.

While advances in digitization and open-access culture have reduced many impediments to building rapidly on existing datasets, the attendees agreed that renewed focus is required to deliver a comprehensive list of names and Catalogue of Life.

Two key requirements for the effort are to improve transparency in the use of component datasets, and to ensure that the contributions of taxonomists are fully acknowledged in ways that track the impact of their work. GBIF hopes to contribute to addressing these areas, based on its recent experience in combining open data licences and digital object identifiers (DOIs) as the foundations for complex data citation. 

While a broader report and next steps will follow, GBIF and Catalogue of Life have already received a positive reaction from the Netherlands. The Dutch node NLBIF is willing to fund a comprehensive solution to these requirements in 2017 and 2018, and several other GBIF participants have also committed resources to this work through the 2017 implementation plan

The key points of agreement from the meeting were as follows:

  1. Participants unanimously agreed that renewed focus is required on rapid delivery of a comprehensive nomenclator and Catalogue of Life – in combination, these are here referred to as CoL+ (“Catalogue of Life Plus”)
  2. Participants identified no serious impediments in making existing datasets available for use in the context of an open and freely usable CoL+
  3. Any CoL+ implementation should fully support clear citation and acknowledgment for contributors (possibly building on experience of GBIF in handling citation for integrated species occurrence data)
  4. The data resources to be delivered as CoL+ are a key foundational resource and product of the work of the global taxonomic community and CoL+ should strengthen relationships with the nomenclatural commissions, taxonomic societies, etc. to enable real community participation and ownership of the resulting product.
  5. Delivering functional comprehensive datasets, with functional mechanisms for their governance and improvement, is more valuable than waiting for all components to be fully validated – provided that the level of validation is clear for all components and provided that mechanisms are offered for continued clean-up and improvement
  6. The most urgent priority is to address the completion of the nomenclatural foundations and to ensure that all validly published names are included in a nomenclator, with stable identifiers and services to support linking and reuse
  7. Wherever possible, existing nomenclatural and taxonomic resources with recognized acceptance within particular taxonomic communities should be supported and enabled as the underlying components of CoL+, and should hold responsibility for overseeing curation of their components
  8. Where no such resource exists, CoL+ should explore combinations of automated and community curation to build the best possible working version
  9. Further immediate attention should be given to developing and proposing a suitable model for handling citation and acknowledgment for contributors, and for engaging additional taxonomists to contribute to the governance and editorial board for CoL+
  10. All datasets and services should be developed in ways which maximize the ability of all stakeholders to reuse, link and build on top of them