Missouri Botanical Garden Open Conference Systems, TDWG 2011 Annual Conference

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The Catalogue of Life - building a taxonomic backbone for the world biota
Frank A. Bisby

Last modified: 2011-10-11


The Catalogue of Life taxonomic backbone (CoL) is being built by Species 2000, the Integrated Taxonomic Information Service (ITIS), and many other partners. It started from discussion at the very first TDWG Meeting (‘blue skies project’ TDWG, 1985) and took shape into a real programme with the sponsorship from 1994 onwards. Central to the programme is its federated structure with expertise contributed through taxonomic experts around the world, and its focus on delivering a simple, integrated, usable species checklist and taxonomic hierarchy.

The Catalogue operates as a global programme with financial support from the European Commission e-Infrastructures Programme, partnered with significant support from China, New Zealand, Australia, Brazil and the USA.  The global secretariat in the UK operates with four networks of partners – the array of 100 global species databases, the ring of significant intermediate aggregators (ITIS, World Register of Marine Species, Freshwater Animal Diversity Assessment, Species Fungorum, Species File Cluster, Paris Insect Cluster, Kew Checklist), the Multi-Hub Network of regional centres in 5 continents, and most recently, a group of 6 global biodiversity programmes.

The present 4D4Life Project (2009-2012) brings major infrastructure support to the Catalogue itself: 

  • A new cyberinfrastructure for production of the Catalogue – a unified supply chain, partner data exchange platform, semi-automated assembly and quality assurance workbench.
  • Accelerated production and renewal cycle times.
  • A new array of services – including web-services, flexible download (including DarwinCore), list-matching, user feedback,  and improved identifiers.
  • A second significant importation route to accelerate the enhancement and completion of the Catalogue.
  • A ring of ‘Catalogue of Life’ centres in 5 continents, to be extended to full world coverage, and developing new ‘taxa of the world’ tools.
  • A community-wide participation model that has proved extremely successful.

The i4Life Project (2010 – 2013) provides a virtual research community to compare and enhance the major species checklists of 6 major global biodiversity projects - that is to assess the extent of species covered by each programme and the CoL, and to cross-map and share species checklist content where appropriate. The project is developing CoL taxon concept matching tools and a CoL piping tool that feeds contributed names and taxa to the array of GSDs for taxonomic positioning. GBIF, the International Union for Conservation Red List, the European Bioinformatics Institute, the International Barcode of Life, LifeWatch and Encyclopedia of Life are participants along with the CoL.

In the EU-Brazil OpenBio programme (2011 – 2013), the CoL provides one of the main use cases in the development of a prototype scientific virtual environments platform and cloud infrastructure for Europe and Brazil.

Finally, a key component in the EC projects is their support for the CoL production team in the UK and the Philippines that continues the all-important content acquisition, peer review and integration. The CoL presently covers 1,368,000 species, about 70% of known biota, and we expect to move rapidly to effective completion with the enhanced techniques.