ITIS and the NBII: Collaborative Taxonomic Index Development

James H. Beach jbeach at NSF.GOV
Mon Feb 24 17:29:34 CST 1997

A discussion thread on Taxacom these last few days has raised the topic of
software systems and some taxonomic community needs for shared
nomenclatural information.

In this context, I think the an approach being taken by several U.S.
federal agencies deserves some mention, that is the: Interagency
Taxonomic Information System (ITIS).  The WWW page is:

ITIS is attacking the problems associated with inconsistent and
out-of-date taxonomic databases on several fronts, with the aim of
producing a database of reliable information on species and higher level
taxa, principally for the use of the US federal agencies for legal and
management needs.

I think it is important to emphasize, that the members of the ITIS
consortium have mounted this effort in the absence of any systematics
community architectures for delivering names and other taxon information
in any standardized way to governmental or other user communities who
have a need for this kind of information.

The ITIS project includes a central database, taxon record authoring
software for MS-Windows (MS-ACCESS) and documentation for the data model
and the description standards which were adopted.  ITIS was not intended
to meet all of the the record authoring/database needs of the research
community as the federal agencies are focussed on their own immediate
needs for shared authority files of names (and not on taxonomic research

I think ITIS is a very interesting development from the perspective of
community information systems in biological taxonomy.  The very broad
collaboration that the feds have started shows great promise for the kind
of organizational collaborations that will be needed to create and
maintain shared taxonomic authority systems.  Their authoring software may
be subject to change, their data model may expand and evolve, but the
group collaboration represents a new and exciting organizational
framework for taxonomic data management.

I encourage you to look at the ITIS web pages.  Please use the contact
information there for further information.  The National Science
Foundation is not a formal partner in the effort, as we do not manage
biodiversity data ourselves, but we interact regularly with the ITIS
effort on other fronts.

Finally, if you have not seen the US National Biological Information
Infrastructure (NBII) pages, they are relevant and worth a visit:

Jim Beach
US National Science Foundation

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