Google for Internet Database of all life, and existing initiatives already doing this

Karen Wilson Karen.Wilson at RBGSYD.NSW.GOV.AU
Tue Mar 21 13:17:43 CST 2006

There is already access to an amazing range of information on 'life on
earth' via the Internet, contrary to the implication of Robin Leech's

Firstly, for species names, there are the nomenclators for each major
group (IPNI -, Index Fungorum -,
etc.) that are listing all the names that are published - an invaluable
service that has been running for many decades in hard copy, much of the
information now available on-line. 

Then there is uBIO, which is tackling the problem of accessing ALL names
mentioned in ALL publications - see Dave Remsen's recent postings on the
latest great developments with uBIO's very useful links to recent
publications (

Then there is the Species 2000 and ITIS Catalogue of Life (CoL) that is
bringing together the many separate taxonomic databases for all groups
of organisms (and working with the above initiatives) to form an
authoritative index to all species. 
To put on my hat as chair of the Species 2000 project team, I am pleased
to announce that the CoL Annual Checklist for 2006 is being launched
this week at COP in Brazil with more than half of the world's known
organisms listed (see for the online version). So we are
well on the way, with the input of our many collaborators and partners,
to achieving our goal of a complete list of all known/named species by
mid-2011. This index is already proving useful as a 'backbone' to link
information about species. 

Then there is GBIF, the Global Biodiversity Information Facility, which
is working closely with the preceding groups and many others around the
world (please excuse me for not listing more of the projects!) to
facilitate unified access to specimen records and other sources of
information about species ( 

GBIF and TDWG ( are working together and with other groups
to develop data standards and software for data gathering and
dissemination via the Web, so it is getting easier for all of us to make
our information about species available on-line, both from our own
websites and via GBIF's portal and the others mentioned above. 
Conversely, all of the above initiatives rely on input from the
thousands of expert biologists in all regions of the world. It is that
expert input that marks these initiatives as superior for users needing
authoritative information. 

Google, of course, also provides access to information about species,
but (without wishing to denigrate Google, which does a fantastic job of
finding information on the most amazingly wide range of subjects) that
access is non-selective in scientific terms and therefore of less value
to those users who need authoritative information. 
Google is now commercial but that would not preclude it working with all
these scientific groups if it wished - but does it wish to do so? It
would appear so, given its support via Google Earth to Brian Fisher and
the great AntWeb site (see
.html). It would be to the benefit of all users if Google would extend
its collaboration. 

The scientific initiatives have the necessary biological expertise but
are short of funding to make it all come together at a speedy rate -
perhaps Google can help fill that gap and help achieve our common goal
sooner: good information available about all organisms?

A related aspect is that the ultimate step of bringing all the
information about a group of organisms together in a 'mashup' (New word
for me! See Nature article at is currently
restricted, as that article points out, by the issue of restrictive
access for wholesale downloading of datasets. The willingness of data
custodians to make their data freely available is coupled to ensuring
that the rest of the world acknowledges them as the data source - which
is important to ensure continued funding. Data access is an issue that
we need to work harder on to find a satisfactory solution for all

Karen Wilson

Karen L. Wilson
Chair, Species 2000 Project Team
National Herbarium of NSW 
Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney
Mrs Macquaries Road

The Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust is part of NSW Department of
Environment & Conservation
Phone: +61-2-9231 8137
Fax: +61-2-9241 2797
Email: karen.wilson at  


-----Original Message-----
From: Taxacom Discussion List [mailto:TAXACOM at LISTSERV.NHM.KU.EDU] On
Behalf Of Robin Leech
Sent: Tuesday, 21 March 2006 3:24 AM
Subject: Submission to the ICZN Commission, and Google for Internet
Database of all life

Hi Taxacomers,

There is a second article in the March 2006 Discover Magazine that is
very pertinent to us.

Antsy in Madagascar: a bushwhacking biologist unearths six-legged
vampires, cannibals, and silk weavers in the quest to bring every ant on
the planet into your home.  By Richard Conniff, pages 44-51.

The ant guy is Brian Fisher of the California Academy of Sciences. You
can access the database so far at

But perhaps the most interesting thought of Brian Fisher's is to
persuade GOOGLE to partner with the scientific community to create an
Internet Database of all life on Earth.

This means that anyone on Earth with Internet can access the database.
Sounds like a plan to me.

Robin Leech

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