[Taxacom] Definition of Checklist

Palmer, Mike mike.palmer at okstate.edu
Tue Feb 12 12:13:37 CST 2008

I have also struggled with the definition of 'flora'.  Fortunately,
there are many published definitions.  This list of properties Anna
lists are consistent with how I have been categorizing floras (see
http://botany.okstate.edu/floras/).  The frustration is that the authors
often do not even list the bounds of the area under consideration, the
taxonomic scope, the methods of obtaining the list (e.g. are collections
searched?), the taxonomic resolution (e.g. are infraspecific
identifications attempted?) or even the source of nomenclature.  Such
deficiencies have not decreased in the 21st century.  A checklist of
known quality, even if it is of poor quality, is often more useful than
a checklist of unknown but good quality.


Michael W. Palmer, Botany Department, Oklahoma State University
104 LSE Stillwater OK 74078 USA 405-744-7717 
LIHD Biofuels Blog: http://testone.okstate.edu/debo/blogs/
OSU Botany: http://botany.okstate.edu/     
OSU Ecology: http://ecology.okstate.edu 

-----Original Message-----
From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
[mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of Weitzman, Anna
Sent: Tuesday, February 12, 2008 11:46 AM
To: David Remsen; taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Definition of Checklist

Hi David,

Oddly enough (or perhaps not so oddly) I've just been facing the same
question in my work on INOTAXA/taXMLit so your message compelled me to
take a stab at analyzing the question using my experience as both a
taxonomist and an informaticist.

We taxonomists have lumped a lot of variation under the term 'checklist'
and as I've thought about how to respond, I have come to the thought
that perhaps we can think of 'checklists' as being one part of a
continuum of ways taxonomists treat/publish information on taxa. 

I suggest one way of dealing with this is to ask our colleagues on
taxacom to help us complete a list the different 'properties' of
So, I'll make a start on such a list of properties of checklists (a
'straw man' list/definition for others to help refine):

1) All have some defined taxonomic scope (e.g., 'higher' plants,
Curculionoidea, Fish, 'all' organisms (in the case of the IUCN redlist))

2) All have some defined geographic scope (e.g., The Guianas, The Amazon
Rainforest, Africa, China, the world)

3) All are have some way of organizing taxa (e.g., a taxonomic
classification (not necessarily one that the author(s) believe in, as
often one of convenience), alphabetically, or a mix of classification at
higher levels and alphabetic below a certain level (e.g., family,

4) All list taxa recognized by the checklist's author(s) at some level
(usually species, though often genera or even families; reasons for such
recognition/circumscription are nearly always implicit)

5) Most contain some information about authorship of the names listed
(which implies information about availability/validity)

6) Most contain some information about the geographical
distribution/occurrence of the taxa

7) Some contain synonymy (often partial, focusing on names that have
been used within the defined geographic scope).  Synonymy may include
vernacular names and may or may not include information about places of

8) Rarely contain identification assistance, including keys, images of
examples of important features, sometimes chromosome numbers and soon, I
expect, DNA barcodes

9) Rarely contain diagnostic information about the taxa

I would say that 1-3 could also describe a nomenclator (though a
nomenclator will also contain the authorship (5) and place of
publication (7) components that may be missing from checklists) and once
one starts adding things like in 8 or 9, it edges toward a
flora/fauna/field guide (which depends on the level of technical detail
included, e.g., field guides often omit most or all of 5 & 7).

Adding more components (e.g., specimens examined, full descriptions,
complete synonymy) edges toward a monograph/revision in scope.

Once we have such a list, then a few of us can look at the metadata
and/or data elements in each to define a model for them (separately or
together depending on the purpose).


Anna L Weitzman, PhD
Botany & Biodiversity Informatics Research
National Museum of Natural History
Smithsonian Institution

-----Original Message-----
From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
[mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of David Remsen
Sent: Tuesday, 12 February 2008 11:20 AM
To: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Subject: [Taxacom] Definition of Checklist

Dear Taxacom-ers

Can someone guide me with some terminology issues.  My problem is what  
appears to be a wide range of definitions for the term "checklist"  I  
am working to define a set of metadata elements that describe  
checklists as are provided to GBIF within the ECAT programme and these  
lists appear to have a wide range of contexts.

At the simple end we have flat lists of species that fall within a  
regional or thematic context.  These may or may not have reference to  
a source taxonomic authority.   Some of these lists may group the  
species list within a classification hierarchy such as the IUCN  
redlist does.  Do these fall within a consensus definition of checklist?

A nomenclator may provide a list of taxon names that provide verified  
nomenclatural metadata but there is no assumed taxonomic component.   
Can such a list be referred to as a checklist?  Does it need  
additional qualifiers?

A taxonomic checklist may be a flat list of verified species names.   
It may be organized within a classification.  There may be summarized  
synonymies or fully annotated taxon circumscriptions.  Is there some  
cutoff for what constitutes a checklist and what might be referred to  
by some other term?

Apologies if these are well-worn questions.

Thank you, David
David Remsen, Senior Programme Officer
Electronic Catalog of Names of Known Organisms
Global Biodiversity Information Facility Secretariat
Universitetsparken 15, DK-2100 Copenhagen, Denmark
Tel: +45-35321472   Fax: +45-35321480
Skype: dremsen

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