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TDWG 2013: Concepts and tools needed for taxonomic expert participation in a Global Names-based infrastructure

Presentation slides are now posted for the TDWG 2013 Global Names talk.

Date: 2013-10-31 09:45 AM – 10:00 AM


We discuss the perceived requirements – conceptual, technical, and social – for the creation of a “Taxonomic Clearing House” (TCH) that will enfranchise and enhance contributions by individual taxonomic experts and collaboratives in a global, names-based infrastructure. In terms of scale, such an infrastructure must be suited to assemble, retrieve, and editing contemporary taxonomic and phylogenetic classifications that involve some 22 million name strings representing 2.3 million living and extinct species; and serve diverse contributor and user communities including 6-40 thousand experts, 400,000 biologists, and more than 100 million citizen scientists. Existing classification synthesis platforms fall short of this grand challenge because they (1) may be limited to living or fossil taxa, (2) fail to show alternative points of view or (3) integrate molecularly-defined entities (“dark taxa”), (4) do not automatically monitor new data, (5) lack scalable solutions for providing feedback and credit, (6) have slow revisionary processes, (7) lack effective machine-to-machine services, or (8) cannot represent finer-grained insights such as evolving taxonomic concepts. Jointly these factors can produce a disconnect of the expert community that leads the global, piece-meal process of advancing classifications from large-scale platforms that purport to represent and unify their individual contributions. A suitable TCH should counteract this by acting as an open communal environment allowing expert contributors to jointly assemble and edit evolving taxonomic and phylogenetic content leading to large-scale classifications. In particular, it must (1) engage major collaborating taxonomic ad phylogenetic initiatives and facilitate diverse information flow; (2) expand information acquisition capabilities to harvest names and classifications from diverse sources; (3) create a powerful interface for taxonomic editing, including a topology assembly and visualization layer, nomenclatural and taxonomic editing layers, a Filtered Push-based service ( for submitting, tracking and accrediting edits to expert contributors, and taxonomically intelligent alerts; and (4) leverage these efforts towards a “Union” reference classification holding two million taxa and multiple alternative perspectives as indicated. To promote the engagement and acceptance, a TCH should target existing expert communities such as contributor to the Symbiota collections or TimeTree phylogenetics platforms. The presentation will both introduce the elements of this TCH vision and assess their merits and current progress and challenges towards realization.

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