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Editorial
Published: 2020-03-31

Taxonomy as the key to life

The University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand. Nord University, Bodo, Norway
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MARK JOHN COSTELLO

Professor in Marine Ecology.
databases checklists species taxa biodiversity Earth oceans

Abstract

Taxonomy is a key to life not only in providing guides to distinguishing species but in opening the door to knowledge about biodiversity. Names of species, as the only standardised measure of biodiversity, are essential for communication of information about nature. However, new knowledge means that what we understand each species to be may change over time. Online species databases are improving accessibility to this knowledge and expertise and provide an easy way to keep up to date with species nomenclature and classification. I propose three practical priorities for taxonomy: (1) complete a world list of all known species; (2) establish an online cooperative community infrastructure that updates species nomenclature and links it to associated literature, information and expertise; (3) create an internet portal as a key to life on Earth. The first is near completion in the Catalogue of Life. The second has an exemplar in the World Register of Marine Species. The third goal has not begun but some of its ingredients exist. This key to life should make it easy for anybody with internet access to accurately name, and discover unnamed, species, and learn about their natural history. Moreover, a “key to life” infrastructure suitably supported by the community and science organisations, could be a focal point for a world taxonomic society and a taxonomy based mega-science initiative to understand life on Earth.

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