[Taxacom] Definition of Checklist

Chris Lyal C.lyal at nhm.ac.uk
Tue Feb 12 15:51:08 CST 2008

I'd like to follow up on Anna's 'continuum' comment.  It is apparent even from the answers so far that the concept of 'checklist' is fuzzy, so why do we want it in an informatics context?  Do we not simply want to list the metadata elements that pertain to names and gatherings of names and go from there to prioritise and select what we want?


So to build on Anna's list, we might have:



1. Source.  This may be tiered (e.g. Catalogue of Life - Species 2000 - Tickbase) or citing a single source.  It may provide the anchor for concepts as noted below.


2. Scope (taxonomic).  This is pretty obvious, except that it relies on a more or less well-defined taxonomic view.  "Curculionoidea" is OK because there is no dispute about the included taxa.  Even so, it would be worth anchoring that with an author and date because the concept may change in future.  "Curculionidae" demands qualification now, because there are at least two different concepts of Curculionidae current today.  "weevils" = Curculionoidea (although "seed weevils" = Bruchidae, so one still needs a concept reference).


3. Scope (geographic).  Again, unequivocal for the most part, except that geographic names change through time so again a concept must be identified.  (e.g. TDWG, Alexandria Digital Library etc).

4. Scope (other).  I'm running into trouble here, since there are a large number of other descriptors out there  (e.g. 'forest pests', 'trees', 'invasive species', 'protected species', 'pollinators', CITES listed'). I think these metadata will be of considerable use in future as we amalgamate our checklists (sensu lato) and build for repurposing of the same core data set. Some of these operate only in another context (e.g. 'invasive species in Thailand').  Again, anchoring to a concept statement will be important.


5. Content (names).  At the most simplistic end of the scale is a list of names, with no other content.  


6. Content (authorship).


7. Content (date of publication).  


8. Content (place of publication).  This could be anything from a microcitation (e.g. Lyal, 2008) to a full bibliographic reference, the latter with or without the full MODS metadata.


9. Scrutiny level.  Sources and spellings may have been garnered from another secondary source or the primary source, so metadata here will include that check and perhaps who checked it and when (could be the source).


10. Content: Nomenclature / code compliance.  This will include metadata about the edition of the relevant Code and any Articles of that Code pertinent.


11. Content:  Synonyms.  This list of names has all the potential additions in 6-10 above, with the addition of who created the synonymy.  I'm including combinations here, as well as rank changes.


12. Content:  different concepts / usages.


13. Content: Organisational rules (including taxonomic relationships) as Anna set out: (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, genus))







From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu on behalf of Weitzman, Anna
Sent: Tue 12/02/2008 17:46
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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