Biology

Principles for creating a single authoritative list of the world’s species


by Stephen T. Garnett, Les Christidis, Stijn Conix, Mark J. Costello, Frank E. Zachos, Olaf S. Bánki, Yiming Bao, Saroj K. Barik, John S. Buckeridge, Donald Hobern, Aaron Lien, Narelle Montgomery, Svetlana Nikolaeva, Richard L. Pyle, Scott A. Thomson, Peter Paul van Dijk, Anthony Whalen, Zhi-Qiang Zhang, Kevin R. Thiele

Lists of species underpin many fields of human endeavour, but there are currently no universally accepted principles for deciding which biological species should be accepted when there are alternative taxonomic treatments (and, by extension, which scientific names should be applied to those species). As improvements in information technology make it easier to communicate, access, and aggregate biodiversity information, there is a need for a framework that helps taxonomists and the users of taxonomy decide which taxa and names should be used by society whilst continuing to encourage taxonomic research that leads to new species discoveries, new knowledge of species relationships, and the refinement of existing species concepts. Here, we present 10 principles that can underpin such a governance framework, namely (i) the species list must be based on science and free from nontaxonomic considerations and interference, (ii) governance of the species list must aim for community support and use, (iii) all decisions about list composition must be transparent, (iv) the governance of validated lists of species is separate from the governance of the names of taxa, (v) governance of lists of accepted species must not constrain academic freedom, (vi) the set of criteria considered sufficient to recognise species boundaries may appropriately vary between different taxonomic groups but should be consistent when possible, (vii) a global list must balance conflicting needs for currency and stability by having archived versions, (viii) contributors need appropriate recognition, (ix) list content should be traceable, and (x) a global listing process needs both to encompass global diversity and to accommodate local knowledge of that diversity. We conclude by outlining issues that must be resolved if such a system of taxonomic list governance and a unified list of accepted scientific names generated are to be universally adopted.

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