Report on CODATA Taxonomy Total Immersion Workshop

Lois D. Blaine lblaine at ATCC.ORG
Fri Oct 14 10:14:41 CDT 1994

Brief Report on CODATA Taxonomy Total Immersion Workshop

The Symposium and Workshop on Taxonomic Data Resources held on 19
and 21 September in Chambery, France, during the 14th CODATA
Conference provided a very interesting forum for 26 taxonomists
and taxonomic database producers from 11 countries of the world
(attendee list appended) to discuss the problems of access to
taxonomic data.  The group was unanimous in its opinion that
there are, indeed, multiple problems to be solved in providing
network access to accurate and comprehensive taxonomic data.

Consensus was reached on the following points:

* There are numerous types of taxonomic data resources, including
software for handling taxonomic data, newsgroups & lists,
organism names,  directories of experts and consultants,
standards for naming organisms, standards for storing organism
names in database management systems, directories of data
resources, and taxonomic information services.  While all of
these are important and necessary for taxonomists and users of
taxonomic information, the most critical resources are the
species name databases.

* Software tools for navigating the Internet are becoming more
sophisticated and are providing much better capability for
linking related resources.  However, there is still much work to
be done by taxonomists to provide the critical baseline data on
species names (preferred and alternate) and authorities for these

* There are numerous efforts by database producers to fill the
void by developing taxonomic authority files from the literature
or other sources to serve their user communities. To be effective
in providing a responsibly chosen preferred taxonomy, in
achieving internal taxonomic coherence, and in monitoring
taxonomic changes, it is important that these systems should link
directly to the appropriate taxonomic databases or to the
appropriate panels of experts.

* It is incumbent upon organizations such as CODATA to catalyze
the development of comprehensive species databases by taxonomic
experts in each subdiscipline of biology and to assist the
database producers and users in gaining access to accurate
taxonomic data.

     Coincidently, the International Union of Biological
Societies (IUBS) and the joint IUBS/International Union of
Microbiological Societies (IUMS) Committee on Taxonomy, had
considered similar questions at a recent meeting in Paris.  An
invitation for CODATA to collaborate with IUBS/IUMS in promoting
the development of a global master species database (or
federation of databases) was delivered by Dr. Frank Bisby, the
IUBS representative to CODATA.  This invitation was
enthusiastically accepted by the CODATA General Assembly.  It was
decided that the CODATA Commission on Standardized Terminology
for Access to Biological Data (STABD) would be the appropriate
subcommitee to carry out this project.  This mechanism for a
collaborative effort has been strengthened by the fact that Frank
Bisby will serve as the new Chairman of STABD and will also Chair
the IUBS/IUMS Steering Committee on a global master species
checklist.  A statement describing the project will be publicized
shortly.  Commentary from the biological and bioinformatics
community will be sought prior to final project design.  All
those engaged in similar projects that address specific taxonomic
data requirements (e.g., TAXMAN, ITIS, SST, etc.) will be
encouraged to join forces with IUBS/IUMS/CODATA so that resources
can be shared for mutual benefit.

     Two specific questions that captured the attention of the
Workshop participants were: 1) Would a freely available
federation of master species databases be detrimental to any
ongoing efforts to develop taxonomic data resources with
capabilities for cost recovery? and 2) How will the joint
IUBS/IUMS/CODATA effort be any more successful in raising the
necessary funds for creation, management, and updating of master
species lists than previous (and ongoing) efforts?

     After considerable discussion and consensus on the contents
of a "master species database", i.e., accepted name or accepted
alternative, synonyms and vernacular names when available, and
authorities for names and taxonomic treatment, (adherence to the
nomenclatural codes of the various subdisciplines would also be
required), participants generally agreed that free availability
of this  core dataset would be more of a benefit than a detriment
to producers of "value added" taxonomic databases.  In fact,
links between the core dataset and the additional information
provided by the various resources would provide a directory to
comprehensive species data, be it in electronic format, hard copy
format, free or fee-based.  Producers of taxonomic resources
would be able to concentrate on the "value added" data and link
this to the master species data instead of recreating the
nomenclatural data for each resource - at great cost in terms of
finances and accuracy.

     The second question is, of course, impossible to answer.
However, participants agreed that sanction and seed money from
the international scientific organizations who have traditionally
been responsible for the naming of organisms, taxonomic
treatments, and formulation of standards for interdisciplinary
dissemination of data, i.e., IUBS, IUMS, and CODATA, might
produce the necessary impetus for a wider interest and
willingness to share costs by international organizations whose
missions are dependent on access to accurate and up-to-date
nomenclatural and taxonomic core data.

     Your comments on these and other points are invited!

List of CODATA Taxonomy Total Immersion Workshop Participants

       NAME               COUNTRY     EMAIL ADDRESS
Cornelia Buchen-Osmond  Australia Buchen at
Ronald W. Hodges        USA       MNHEN107 at
F.Christian Thompson    USA       MNHEN121 at
Elaine Ross             UK        msdn at
Ashok Kolaskar          India     bioinfo at
M.B. Bouche             France    cepe at fr.mop.11
Jeffrey Shaw            Brazil    jeffrey at
Mariza Lacerda          Brazil    mariza at
Manfred Kracht          Germany   kracht at venus.gbf-
Micah Krichevsky        USA       micahk at
James Beach             USA       beach at
Akira Tsugita           Japan     tsugita at jpnsut31.bitnet
Frank Bisby             UK        fbisby at
Karen Wilson            Australia karen at
Michael Dadd            UK        mdadd at
Judith Howcroft         UK        jhowcroft at
Ronald Sluys            Netherlands ronald at
Mierseille Altimonelli  Italy     altimonelli at
Harrie Lalieu           Netherlands
Winona Barker           USA       barker at
Junko Shimura           Japan     junko at
Paul M. Kirk            UK        p.kirk at
Martin Lhotak           UK        lhotak at
David Gee               UK        D.A.Gee at
Tom Moritz              Switzerland tom at (until 10/14)
                                   tmoritz at
Lois Blaine             USA       lblaine at

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