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Making a List of All Creatures, Great and Small: For the First Time, an Agreed List of All the World’s Species

Giraffe Herd

A paper revealed July 7, 2020, in the open entry journal PLOS Biology outlines a roadmap for creating, for the first time, an agreed checklist of all the world’s species, from mammals and birds to crops, fungi and microbes.

“Listing all species may sound routine, but is a difficult and complex task,” says Prof. Stephen Garnett of Charles Darwin University, the paper’s lead writer. “Currently no single, agreed list of species is available.” Instead, some iconic teams of organisms reminiscent of mammals and birds have a number of competing lists, whereas different much less well-known teams have none.

Reticulated Giraffe

Reticulated giraffe Giraffa (camelopardalis) reticulata, photographed in Kenya in 2013. Giraffe taxonomy is being debated, with the conventional classification recognizing a single species and different classifications recognizing as much as eight distinct giraffe species. On the former view, the Reticulated giraffe can be a subspecies, on the latter, it could be a distinct species in its personal proper. Credit: Frank E. Zachos

This causes issues for organizations and governments that want dependable, agreed, scientifically defensible and correct lists for the functions of conservation, worldwide treaties, biosecurity, and regulation of commerce in endangered species. The lack of an agreed checklist of all species additionally hampers researchers finding out Earth’s biodiversity.

The new paper outlines a potential answer — a set of ten ideas for creating and governing lists of the world’s species, and a proposed governance mechanism for making certain that the lists are well-managed and broadly acceptable.

“Importantly, it clearly defines the roles of taxonomists — the scientists who discover, name and classify species — and stakeholders such as conservationists and government and international agencies,” says Dr. Kevin Thiele, Director of Taxonomy Australia and a co-author on the paper. “While taxonomists would have the final say on how to recognize and name species, the process ensures that stakeholders’ needs are considered when deciding between differing taxonomic opinions.”

The Earth’s species are going through unprecedented threats, from world heating, air pollution, land clearing, illness and overutilization, which collectively are driving an unprecedented and accelerating extinction disaster. “Developing a single, agreed list of species won’t halt extinction,” says Garnett, “but it’s an important step in managing and conserving all the world’s species, great and small, for this and future generations.”

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Reference: “Principles for creating a single authoritative list of the world’s species” by Stephen T. Garnett, Les Christidis, Stijn Conix, Mark J. Costello, Frank E. Zachos, Olaf S. Bánki, Yiming Bao, Saroj Ok. Barik, John S. Buckeridge, Donald Hobern, Aaron Lien, Narelle Montgomery, Svetlana Nikolaeva, Richard L. Pyle, Scott A. Thomson, Peter Paul van Dijk, Anthony Whalen, Zhi-Qiang Zhang and Kevin R. Thiele, 7 July 2020, PLOS Biology.
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.3000736

Authors SG, LC, SC, MC, KT, FZ obtained funding from the International Union for Biological Sciences to run a workshop reviewing the ideas described in the paper as half of the IUBS programme “Governance of Global Taxonomic Lists.” SC’s involvement was funded by the Flemish Research Council Grant 3H200026. The funders had no function in examine design, information assortment and evaluation, determination to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. All different authors obtained no particular funding for this

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