Google for Internet Database of all life

Jim Croft jrc at ANBG.GOV.AU
Wed Mar 22 08:18:59 CST 2006

> As much as the "rugged individualists" like Ken might disparage the
> idea, we do actually NEED to develop a single classification that
> everyone OUTSIDE the taxonomic community can use, and that means a
> consensus opinion, even if it isn't unanimous.
> Some of us seriously hope to build such a classification, and I hope
> many of the folks on this list will support and contribute to such an
> effort.

The Australian Plant Census, based on the Australian Plant Name index is
an attempt to do this, at least at the family/genus/species level to start

A working group of plant taxonomists representing each of the State and
Territory herbaria and plant census jurisdictions is wading through each
of our c. 20,000 vascular plant taxa, accounting for each of > 60,000
names, evaluating who knows how many published classifications and
taxonomic concepts and agreeing by concensus (in most cases amicably) on a
single agreed arrangement that *can* be used at a national level to
describe the flora as whole.

Once an agreement or compromise has been reached based on best available
evidence, the taxonomies of each group are submitted to the Council of
Heads of Australian Herbaria (CHAH) for scrutiny, endorsement, amendment
or rejection; CHAH is made up of the Directors of each of the major State
and Territory herbaria in the country. From time to time rejects lists as
being inadequate in some way and they are sent back to the working group
to fix or respond to.

Taxa previously treated by the working group and endorsed by CHAH are
continually assessed aganst new literature as it becomes available.

Not surprisingly, the project and its processes has its critics: sloppy,
unscientific, not doing research, who are these masked people,
etc...  which in nearly every case is code for: "how dare they use
so-and so's classification and not use my latest treatment".

Of course there are arguments and things get into the list that some
people can't stand (for the life of me I can not see any valid scientific
or practical reason to recognize a clearly monophyletic Casuarina as four
genera, mumble, mumble...ok, ok, I'm sorry I mentioned the war..) but a
spirit of good will and deference to current expert opinion enable the the
work to do on.  In Australia this represents unprecedented taxonomic
collaboration at a national level.

The process works because there is no compulsion for any of the
partcipants, for anyone else for that matter, to actually use what they
come up with in their herbaria and censuses, acknowledging a heap of valid
and pragmatic reasons for retaining local practice.

But interestingly, by going through the process, each herbarium is
re-evaluation its treatment of taxa in more detail and in many cases they
are adopting the arrangements selected for the Australian Plant Census and
we are witnessing an incremental convergance of State and territory
practice across the country.  Whether this convergence is towards each
other or on the nationally developed list, is not really important.  The
fact remains that as taxonomists we are creating a more consistenst and
integrated means of accessing information about plants.  And isn't that
our job?


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