What is IOPI [ extract from 'Taxon' ]

Jim Croft jrc at ANBG.GOV.AU
Wed Dec 30 08:29:13 CST 1992

Scanned from Taxon 41(May1992): 390-392.
Content-Length: 11060


Edited by Herve M. Burdet

Conservatoire et Jardin Botaniques, Ville de Geneve,
Case Postale 60,CH-1292 Chambesy, Switzerland.

What is IOPI?  [the International Organization for Plant Information]

This new organisation came into being on September 20th, 1991, at a
meeting at the Australian National Botanic Gardens, Canberra, hosted
by the Australian Biological Resources Study. Forty-nine botanists
from eleven countries participated. The genesis of the new
international organisation lay in discussions arising from an initial
proposal by Kew to establish, with a consortium of major herbaria,
a computerized taxonomic database - the Species Plantarum Project
(SPP) - and those held at Delphi, under the auspices of TDWG, in
October 1990, to consider the establishment of a Global Plant Species
Information System (GPSIS).

At a subsequent meeting at Kew in November 1990 in connexion with
SPP, it became obvious that both proposals had a common interest in
establishing a world checklist of vascular plants as soon as possi-
ble. It was equally clear that this would involve a major,
co-operative, truly international effort and that the project would
be extremely expensive. An interim Council was established to
expedite the proposal. This met at Kew under the successive chair-
manships of Professor Prance (June 27th) and Mr Alex George (June
28th and 29th), Professor Lucas acting as Secretary, as agreed in
November. To quote from the minutes of the meeting:

"There was general agreement that a new organization which could
combine and replace SPP and GPSIS, as presently constituted, by a
single organization, would prevent duplication, possible
undesirable competition, and would greatly facilitate the success of
the project. A unified will is essential to make it work on an
international scale"

Mr. George, on behalf of the relevant Australian organizations, then
offered to host a meeting to consider this proposal in Canberra where
a meeting of TDWG - whose activities would be particularly relevant
to aspects of the proposal - had already been arranged. There was a
very thorough and wide-ranging discussion at Canberra of the pros and
cons of the proposal and how it would impact on existing
institutional taxonomic activities; of how it would relate to other
ongoing projects, such as those of IAPT; of the kind of support it
might attract from taxonomic institutions and elsewhere and indeed,
of whether the proposal was a viable proposition. At the end of two
days full discussion there was overwhelming support for the proposal
to establish a new organization. A Constitution was agreed and
working arrangements proposed to achieve, as the first task, a
Checklist of the vascular plants of the world.

The Constitution of IOPI sets out succinctly the objectives of the
organization, namely:

1. to promote and prepare, as expeditiously as possible, a series of
   integrated, dispersed, computerized databases, summarizing the basic
   taxonomic information (bearing in mind the basic requirements of
   freedom of taxonomic research and opinion), and biological and
   other attributes (in particular, information relating to their
   utilization and conservation) of all kinds of plants* in the world;

   * Plants to be interpreted as those organisms covered by the
     International Code of Botanical Nomenclature.

2. to document the data in such ways as shall make them most readily
   accesible to users of all kinds, in all regions, and in such formats
   as shall seem most expedient to the governing body of IOPI;

3. thereafter, to maintain the data in an up to date form and
   continue to render them accessible in accordance with (1) and (2)

To assist in gaining international recognition for IOPI, the
Constitution also includes establishing of an association with IAPT,
TDWG, CODATA, IUCN, UNEP and UNESCO, including their representation,
ex officio, on the Council of IOPI. To date, IAPT, TDWG, IUCN and
UNEP have agreed to such an association, and the matter is under
consideration by CODATA and UNESCO. Preliminary recognition of IOPI
as an international scientific association or commission by IUBS has
been granted with a view to ratification of full recognition and
representation at their next general assembly in 1994.

Setting out objectives is the easiest part of the task, achieving
them will be more difficult for several reasons. Firstly, the
available expertise necessary is scattered all over the world and
many of the practitioners are already fully engaged on existing
taxonomic tasks. IOPI will have to depend upon the goodwill and
voluntary collaboration of many institutions, together with finding
the means (where essential) to provide additional assistance, whether
for basic taxonomic work or modifications of present practice, so
that existing and ongoing knowledge can contribute to the world
database. Moreover, for many regions and several taxonomic groups
even the most basic data are lacking or very limited. It will be
important for IOPI to raise funding to assist such regions to develop
taxonomic work both for their own information as well as a
contribution to world knowledge.

It is important to realize that IOPI will act primarily as a trustee
of the knowledge in the proposed world database and to facilitate the
acquisition and availability of knowledge about plants and their
attributes as an international service. Lastly, but of immense
importance, IOPI will need to work through international
collaboration and to ensure that such funding activities as it may
promote compete minimally, or not at all, with the fund-raising
efforts of other taxonomic institutions and individuals. Because the
objectives of IOPI are wider than the purely taxonomic, although in
the first instance that is the area of overriding importance, the
founders of IOPI believe that sources can be tapped which will meet
the non-taxonomic competitive criterion.

To implement this approach a number of actions were agreed. Firstly,
an international Foundation Council was established to get the
project started. A Council fully in accordance with the Constitution
is to be elected by postal ballot of members in 1992 to become
effective from the next plenary meeting of IOPI to be held in Xalapa,
Mexico, in Autumn 1992 (in association with a TDWG meeting).

Secondly, a World Plant Checklist Committee having a wide regional
representation was seen as a prime necessity. Dr. David Hunt of Kew
was asked to establish and lead it. This body will co-ordinate and
promote the range of activities necessary to achieve a working
checklist in an initial target period of 5 years. Inter alia it will
have to organize commitments and contributions from different
participants and establish regional groups so that participants can
keep in touch both with each other and with the project as a whole.

Thirdly, the Checklist Committee will be supported by four
international Working Groups. One will develop a Taxonomic Resources
Network (TRN, chaired by Nancy Morin, St Louis) to assess what is
already available, identify regional and taxonomic gaps and provide
information to others in the project. A second will be concerned with
Dataset Definition and Standards (DDS, chaired by Frank Bisby,
Southampton), for work allied to that already being carried out by
TDWG. It is expected that this group should be able to provide a
minimum dataset with appropriate definitions of acceptable standards
early in 1992. The Information System Design group (ISD, chaired by
Catherine Zellweger, Geneva) will first examine the question of basic
transfer formats in current use, as advised by TRN in collaboration
with DDS. But its major task will be to develop an adequate and
effective system for the final Checklist so that it will be possible
to integrate other data, taxonomic and non-taxonomic, into it.
K. Beese (Brussels) has been asked to form an additional User
working group to look into what other kinds of data should be
incorporated into the taxonomic checklist and with what priority.

Lastly, the Products and Editing group (PE, chaired by Herve Burdet)
will be concerned with the form of the final products as well as the
editing en route.

As has already been said, IOPI will have to depend greatly on the
voluntary participation of institutions and individuals world-wide,
and most of the financing of basic taxonomic work will be that
available to each participant in the course of normal work.
However, if the project is to be truly developed and integrated
internationally, then some central funding will have to be found to
cover the running costs of maintaining communications and the like,
as well as for assisting with travel when no other source is
available. A Finance working group (chaired by J. Scott Petersen,
US.D.A., Beltsville) has therefore been established both to seek
support and supporters for all financial aspects of the work. While
this group will, of course, actively seek general funds for central
activities, it will also try to respond to, and promote, the needs of
other groups within the project. For instance the Checklist Committee
will have to meet at least once before the next full meeting of IOPI and
ISD would like to hold a number of small workshops involving people
from different parts of the world.

Geneva has most generously offered to prepare, circulate, and meet
the cost of an IOPI Newsletter (to be edited by Herve M. Burdet) and
this should greatly aid communication.

However, until the first Newsletter is produced, further detailed
information about IOPI can best be obtained from its Secretary, Alex
George, Australian Biological Resources Study, GPO Box 636, Canberra,
ACT 2601, Australia. He, or any member of the Foundation Council, can
provide information on how to become a Participating Centre or
Individual Member of IOPI.

[  electronic information about IOPI - including this report - is
   available on the network via anonymous ftp at the biodiversity
   server at the Australian National University:

          life.anu.edu.au     /pub/biodiversity/iopi

   and at the taxacom server at Harvard University:

          huh.harvard.edu     /pub/standards/iopi

   It is also available throught the Harvard biodiversity gopher
   server by:

          gopher huh.harvard.edu 70

    - jrc  ]

The Foundation Council members are: Dr. A. Anton (Cordoba,
Vice-chairman), Prof. Dr. P. Baas (Leiden), Dr. K. Beese (E.C.,
Brussels), Dr. F. Bisby (Southampton), Dr. D. Geltman (St.
Petersbourg), A.  George (Canberra, Secretary), Dr. A. Giulietti (Sao
Paulo), Prof. W. Greuter (Berlin), Dr. P. Holmgren (New York), Prof.
K. Iwatsuki (Tokyo), Prof. B. Jonsell (Stockholm), Dr. E. Kennedy
(Biosis, Philadelphia), Prof. G. Lucas (Kew), Dr. P. Maas (Utrecht),
Prof P. Morat (Paris), Dr. N. Morin (St. Louis), Dr. L. Skog
(Washington), Prof. R.  Spichiger (Geneva), Prof. C. Stace
(Leicester), and Dr. D. Sutton (London).

[Sir John Burnett, Chairman, 13 Field House Drive, Oxford OX2 7NT, U.K.]

Jim Croft                [Herbarium CBG]           internet: jrc at anbg.gov.au
Australian National Botanic Gardens                   voice:  +61-6-2509 490
GPO Box 1777, Canberra, ACT 2601, AUSTRALIA             fax:  +61-6-2509 599
______a division of the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service______

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