The key features that define the structure and the success of the Catalogue of Life are the:

  • Species Checklist which identifies those names which are accepted by authoritative specialists in the groups concerned.
  • Management Classification providing an integrated, hierarchical view of relationships between taxa. Users of the Catalogue can navigate the checklist using the management classification in the form of a taxonomic tree.
  • Integration of Global Species Databases employing a radical architecture of federating global taxonomic expert knowledge, which is embodied by a growing array of supplier databases, and integrating these into a single catalogue.

The Catalogue of Life provides critical species information on:

  • Synonymy enabling the effective referral of alternative species names to an accepted name.
  • Higher taxa within which a species is clustered.
  • Distribution identifying the global regions from which a species is known

The carefully controlled dataset provides a powerful index of the world's species, where rigorous validation and completeness of data provide unmatched authority to the Catalogue of Life.



Rationale & Significance

The aim is to collate the names of all species set in the context of a taxonomic hierarchy and of their distribution. It is estimated that less than a fifth of the world's biota has been identified, and a single checklist is an important step in effectively coordinating efforts to document biodiversity.

Degradation and loss of global biodiversity is a key issue for our time. The Catalogue of Life supports the major biodiversity and conservation information services such as GBIF (the Global Biodiversity Information Facility), the Encylopedia of Life and the IUCN Red List of threatened species. The Catalogue is recognised by the Convention on Biological Diversity as a significant component of the Global Taxonomy Initiative and as a contributor to Target 1 of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation. The Catalogue of Life does not directly contribute to the conservation of global biodiversity, but it is becoming a key enabler of the programmes that do.

Major bioscience programmes depend upon the integration of complex data if they are to progress effectively. Cross-mapping species that provide the substance of that research is fundamental to data integration. The Catalogue of Life provides an essential taxonomic backbone to support the escalating pace of scientific endeavour worldwide.



Key Principles

  • Comprehensive - Aiming to cover all known organisms: terrestrial, freshwater and marine.
  • Global - Covering the world's biota, engaging the world's experts and informing its policy makers.
  • Validated - Responsible, modern and professional.
  • Accurate - Reviewed by experts, not merely aggregated by computers.
  • Accessible - Clearly presented; multi-lingual.
  • Available - Widely and freely distributed; on and offline.
  • Dynamic - Reflecting change in our understanding of biodiversity.



A Unique Global Partnership

The Catalogue of Life is a remarkable global partnership. The content is contributed by an array of some 200+ expert taxonomic databases world-wide, involving over 3,000 taxonomic specialists: the Global Species Databases.

Expert teams peer review the databases and integrate them into a single coherent catalogue, and have established a single hierarchical classification.

The Catalogue of Life is developing as a key partner to the major programmes that inform our understanding of global biodiversity. By providing a platform for the validation and sharing of species names, the Catalogue strengthens these programmes individually and collectively.



How the Catalogue is Used

The Catalogue of Life has a diverse community of users:

  • Research scientists in academia, institutes, industry and government
  • Policy and decision-makers in governments and international organisations
  • Citizen scientists exploring biodiversity and the education community

It is widely used by organisations and individuals around the world, for a range of purposes.

    Species look-up

    Vast numbers of people use the Web to look up species of organisms, i) to verify the name they have (check the scientifically accepted name, spelling, alternative names), ii) to place a taxon in the taxonomic hierarchy, and iii) to see other basic data, such as distribution, for that species.

  • Sizing higher taxa
  • The Catalogue is a powerful tool to get an estimate of the size of a taxonomic group. Typically they know one member species, but have no idea whether the group is extensive or small on a world basis. The Catalogue of Life sets species in the context of a consistent and integrated taxonomic hierarchy.

  • Synonymic indexing
  • Synonymic indexing is automated in the Catalogue so that users in different countries who might search for broad bean, or fava bean, or faba bean, or Vicia faba, or Faba vulgaris will all arrive at the same species page. The page states clearly that the one species, Vicia faba has a synonym, Faba vulgaris, and common names, broad bean, fava bean, faba bean, all referring to the same species. The ‘unification’ or globalisation provided by accurate synonymic indexing contributes significantly to enabling international discussion and data exchange.

  • Synonymic amplification
  • Given that one species may be referred to by many names, a person or machine searching the Internet, or a data set such as GBIF, will receive only a subset of data if they search on just one name. It is more effective to amplify the search with all synonyms of that species. There are many examples where this amplification of search strings yields sharply improved results, particularly spanning continents.

  • Compiling checklists
  • Compiling checklists of species in a particular area or taxonomic group using downloads.

  • Downloading
  • Downloading an electronic list for use in systems and portals.

  • Establishing a taxonomic backbone
  • GBIF has used the Catalogue as a backbone structure on which to make its own additions. It uses associative techniques to link additional species that are not presently in the Catalogue to the positions they are likely to belong. The ‘taxonomically intelligent’ tool provided by uBio to the BHL project using our hierarchy has broadly similar features.

  • Global standardisation
  • Organisations are starting to use the Catalogue to achieve compatibility with others that already use it, for instance GBIF nodes and some national portals. The possibility of a quantum increase in the coherence of the world’s biodiversity data and analyses is beginning to emerge, simply by the process of many organisations opting to use the same Catalogue. Given the extent of society’s dependence on biodiversity, this alone is a significant goal.

  • Biodiversity analyses
  • A coherent and synonymised checklist of names enables the integration of studies from disparate sources, further enriching our understanding of the world's biodiversity.