Taxonomic framework


Providing a stable and comprehensive catalogue of all species.

Progress: significant progress (significant progress made, further investment needed to complete)


The classification of species has been developed over the last few centuries, and will continue to change in the future as our understanding of evolutionary history develops, and new species are discovered and described. This means that the actual names applied to specimens, observations or populations are subject to change over time – or according to the person doing the naming – while specimens or observations may be of currently undescribed species without a formal scientific name at all. Yet names – vernacular or scientific – are one of the primary means for retrieving and grouping information. It is crucial to be able to draw correlations between names used (currently and in the past) and the taxa they relate to, according to the major classification schemes and phylogenies in use, and to map between different classifications. Although progress has been made in this area, it is one of the key underpinning components to make data fully available, and it should be completed as a matter of urgency.

Scientists have been working to create a comprehensive formal taxonomic classification since work began on Species 2000/Catalogue of Life. Some projects such as Centro de Referência em Informação Ambiental (CRIA) already identify taxonomic and geographical gaps in the record to help identify priorities for research. Collaborations are creating architectures that can handle multiple taxonomies as well as informal and vernacular names through the Global Names Architecture and most recently the i4Life project, contributing to resources such as the GBIF backbone or nub taxonomy.

In the short term, a clear road map is required to consolidate all these existing activities and deliver a suite of reliable, robust and open tools for accessing basic information on species names and classifications.

In the medium term, global taxonomic expertise must be organized to fill remaining gaps in the underlying datasets and to address linkages with key species lists such as the IUCN Red List and CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species), and with approved national species lists.

In the long term, all new species names and descriptions should automatically be integrated into this framework.