'Names in November' workshop targets single shared species list


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

We welcome the enthusiasm of other organizations and institutions, both those represented at the meeting and elsewhere, and encourage them to join us in this important initiative.