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Scientists Propose a Universal Species List: What Does This Mean?

by Bon Lau Africa Americas Asia Europe Oceania Oct 7th 20204 mins
Scientists Propose a Universal Species List: What Does This Mean?

Scientists have put forward a proposal to develop a universal list of species on Earth. The 10-principle framework aims to better manage biodiversity and conservation in the age of accelerating environmental changes. What are these principles and how would they help? 

When it comes to conservation and biodiversity, a universal list of species would serve multiple functions. Broadly, it would help the mitigation of the trade on wildlife products, as restricted under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The lack of such an authoritative universal list hinders the effectiveness of conserving biodiversity as different taxonomic practices may confuse users. 

There are projects such as the Catalogue of Life that are already working on creating a comprehensive global index of species, however it has not been universally adopted by taxonomists, governments or conservation organisations. 

The lack of a single authoritative list of species has resulted in a number of issues. Four main drawbacks of the existing taxonomic practices have been identified: first, some of the world’s species are invisible to those who lack the resources to access or navigate specialist taxonomic literature: there is hardly a single complete list of marine invertebrates of the deep sea, however there are four big ones for birds. Second, the lack of a unified list means that  taxonomic contributions are often missed because information is so scattered. Third, it causes confusion between what lists to consult and fourth, users may unknowingly follow outdated species identification guides or lists. 

What Do The Principles Consist Of?

The 10 principles of compiling the universal list of species were proposed by a group of scientists aiming to support pre existing efforts on building a global list and providing a legitimate reason and institutional authority for adopting the list as a global standard across governments and world organisations. 

These proposed governing rules help guarantee that the list will be properly managed and accepted by stakeholders including the taxonomist community, naturalists, ecologists, the commercial sector and government agencies:

  1. The list should be built on science, where non taxonomic considerations and interference, such as political and economic considerations, should be avoided. The funding authority of the taxonomic authority should not interfere with the governance process and the funding of the list should be open to the public.  
  2. The governance of the list should strive for community support and use, where global support of the list demands all interested parties to be engaged. The governing process should also be validated by international organisations to maintain a high level of international governance.  
  3. The decisions about compiling the list should be transparent. The list itself should also be freely accessible, archived, provide citation and indicate where any edits have been made. 
  4. The governance of the validated lists of species should be separate to the governance of the naming of species, but the lists should be compatible or even be integrated if possible.   
  5. The governance of the lists should not interfere with academic freedom. 
  6. The set of criteria considered to be sufficient to recognise species boundaries may vary between different taxonomic groups but should be consistent when possible. 
  7. The list should provide archived versions to accommodate users who prefer currency and stability and vice versa, since taxonomy is a dynamic process, where taxonomic research is constantly tested, adopted and overturned. To accommodate users such as legislators, who would require a stable version of the list, the archived versions of the list should be accessible as long as it is needed.
  8. The people who prepare and annotate the list should receive recognition. 
  9. Full citations of the literature including scientific nomenclature and the foundation of the specific associated taxonomic concept should be included.
  10. The global listing process should ensure both global and local diversity be considered.

The adoption of this governance system would require consensus and collaboration among different bodies. These principles should be agreed upon and refined, where the system would be operated by a representative body in accordance with these principles. The system should also be endorsed by key users such as the IUCN and other national bodies. The united list would also gather the thematic parties to develop a work plan for combing the current competing lists and maintaining and managing the created list. 

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A pilot programme has been launched by the International Union of Biological Science (IUBS) that aims to extend this 10-principle framework by gathering the taxonomic expertise, users of taxonomy, current aggregators of taxonomic lists and governance experts to establish a globally accepted taxonomic authority.    

Compiling a global authoritative list may not be an easily accomplished task but in In view of facing the global extinction crisis, creating a globally-accepted list of the world’s species may help better manage the planet’s biodiversity.  

About the Author

Bon Lau

Bon Lau is a MSc graduate at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology in Environmental Science and Management. He is currently working as an environmental consultant in supporting green building design and certification. His particular interest focus on building sustainability, ocean science, and environmental health.

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