[Taxacom] CoL and ZooBank

Bob Mesibov mesibov at southcom.com.au
Thu Jul 8 03:33:42 CDT 2010

The closer I look at the acronym situation in zoology, the more wonderful it gets.

I've found recent-species pages on EoL with the annotation "Name not in Species 2000 & ITIS Catalogue of Life: Annual Checklist 2009". These were contributed by the journal ZooKeys, which means the names are in ZooBank, too.

I've also found that for at least one annoyingly out of date CoL name, the 'Latest Taxonomic Scrutiny' was 6 years before the source database was actually accepted as a CoL contributor, back in 2008. It's good that CoL tells us this, but where does that leave the user who wants what CoL says it hopes to offer, namely "a comprehensive catalogue of all known species of organisms on Earth" (CoL) and "a uniform and validated index to the world's known species" (Species2000)?

Alastair Culham writes "Perhaps CoL need to set up an adoption process for orphaned databases to ensure they don't go unloved for ever :-)" Yes, and a promotion process for groups without databases. Both voluntary, of course.

Another answer for the user is to flee to ION, the Index to Organism Names (http://www.organismnames.com/), a free Thomson Reuters web service with links to ZooBank. Every name I've so far missed in CoL and EoL I've found in ION (think 'Zoological Record'). ION has one-species pages, too, but the situation ain't ideal. Recent taxonomic publications using the name are listed, but to see the reference citation you need to be a Zoological Record subscriber.

Then there are ION's external links, e.g. to EoL and GBIF. Sometimes the ION species page has a link-graphic to GBIF specimen data. You click the link and get taken to GBIF's data-use agreement, and after reading this densely written document you click Accept and find that no, actually GBIF doesn't have any data for this name. At other times the *same* ION page reports "GBIF Distribution Map and Specimen Data - No GBIF distribution map available for this name".

Let me be clear about this: I am not complaining about particular, nit-picking data validity issues. I am pointing out that there are systemic failures in the acronym universe to share nomenclatural data, to ensure that these data are complete and up to date, and to offer pointers to users who need/want to further check the data.

What to do? Well, I'm sure the acronymists mean well and are working hard on such problems, and no doubt some of these issues could be handed to a working group at yet another bioinformatics conference somewhere. But down here in Userland, here's my recommendation:

(1) Go straight to a bottom-up, online classification for the group in question, well-referenced, and produced and maintained by a specialist or specialists. If none exists, go to (2).
(2) Browse through ION, CoL, EoL and Wikispecies. Note any differences and try to work out how they arose. If this fails or leads you in circles, go to (3).
(3) Go to a library with a subscription to Zoological Record. Check out some primary sources and take digital notes.

(2) sounds like comparison shopping. It takes time, and isn't that what 'cybertaxonomy' is supposed to save us?
Dr Robert Mesibov
Honorary Research Associate
Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, and
School of Zoology, University of Tasmania
Home contact: PO Box 101, Penguin, Tasmania, Australia 7316
03 64371195; 61 3 64371195
Webpage: http://www.qvmag.tas.gov.au/?articleID=570

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