[Taxacom] Plant names

Rafaël Govaerts R.Govaerts at kew.org
Sat Feb 20 12:10:09 CST 2021

It always surprises me how misunderstood all the taxonomic and nomenclatural databases are. Many papers are being published using those databases together with GBIF and coming to completely false conclusions because they do not understand them and compare apples with lemons. Here some clarification.

1. name and publication databases: provide name data and publication data ONLY

IPNI,as said only provides name information NOT if a species is accepted or not (so Tom, as the last letter indicates, IPNI is in INDEX not a Catalogue)

importantly, IPNI also provides unique LSIDs and as Stephen said, the idea when they were created 20 years ago was so you could use that ID and then link to taxonomic databases and you can choose whichever you follow. Unfortunately even though we have pleaded every time a new project was started, few, if any use them, the latest one being WFO who decided as well to invent their own ID system.

Tropicos is also not a Catalogue and does not say if a name is accepted or not. It does give references to publications where the name is accepted and where it is a synonym but makes no judgement itself so a statement like "this name is an accepted according to TROPICOS" cannot possibly be true, the most that you can say is that Reynoutria japonica has one reference that accepts it and 3 that list it as a synonym. It is also important to remember that this is a working database made available online so it contains thousands of manuscript names (it is like the piles of paper you used to find on a botanist's desk). PS. It is also a great example how to turn a great website into a bad one with a new design.

2. Data aggregators: take existing databases and have computers decide on the taxonomy

CoL(first letter indicates it is a CATALOGUE) & GBIF collaboration use existing databases and put them together. COL uses particular databases as the sole data for particular groups (mostly plant families) while GBIF has a ranking of databases where they use the taxonomy of the first, if the name is not there, then they use the second... About half of the CoL data come from WCVP. It tries to refresh the data annually from the contributing databases.

TPL, the plant list, this is now 10 year old data and was mainly bases on WCSP (75%) & TROPICOS (where computers decided to follow the most recent publication attached to a name). Computers made taxonomic decisions in case of conflicts.

LCVP, the Leibzig list is based on TPL with some more recent databases added and computers making decision which leads to some very odd synonymy, invalid and illegitimate names being accepted and names being accepted in genera that are not accepted!

WFO currently uses TPL but will be using WCVP soon, the idea is to have taxonomic expert groups (TEN) that provide data, though it is not the goal for experts to amend data in WFO directly.

3. Databases based on the original Literature with all records being checked by human beings

WCVP/POWO. WCVP https://wcvp.science.kew.org/ is the names backbone of POWO so the taxonomic data are identical. They use IPNI ID's so they can only show names that are also in IPNI (the missing ones will be added if funding is found). WCSP https://wcsp.science.kew.org/home.do contains the same data but does not use IPNI IDs so shows all names in the 200 reviewed families it lists and is live (WCVP/POWO are refreshed on Mondays). POWO is unique in that it shows literature on which taxonomic decisions are based in the bibliography section as well as the data being peer reviewed by experts (about half the data completed) which includes some of the WFO TEN's that have chosen to maintain the family of their interest in WCVP.

World Plants https://www.worldplants.de which is a one man project some of the data is cutting edge, some outdated but all of it his personal opinion.
It is also a major contributor to COL.

There are also a number of regional database and eFloras (though I don't know of any eFlora that is kept updated so it is important to check the DATE the data was created)

USDA Plants, for N. America, as stated this is not regularly updated.

Euro+Med plantbase http://ww2.bgbm.org/EuroPlusMed/query.asp for Europe and the Medit and it uses some WCVP data. it is irregularly updated.

APD http://www.ville-ge.ch/musinfo/bd/cjb/africa/recherche.php?langue=an for Africa which is updated regularly and high quality data and easy to use.

SANBI for South Africa, but I think this is also incorporated into APD

and a number of smaller ones mainly for European countries which are updated but are more Floristic than Taxonomic reference works.

There are also databases for particular taxonomic groups, though most of the larger ones are very incomplete and it is hard to know how up-to-date the data are. A good one is https://euphorbiaceae.org/

It you only take home on thing the it is that whichever database you use check the DATE at which the data was last updated (e.g. for POWO, that is last Monday and for TPL there are exact dates with each entry)

Best wishes,
Rafaël <https://www.kew.org/science/who-we-are-and-what-we-do/people/rafa%C3%ABl-h-a-govaerts>


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