• Field of research: Taxonomy
  • Disciplines involved: Botany, Zoology, Mycology, Phycology
  • Innovative activities: Developing a comprehensive global governance mechanism for aggregating global taxonomic lists
  • Impacts on education: Provides an example of interdisciplinary collaboration as a way to tackle and resolve a particularly complex problem with far-reaching consequences for various scientific and non-scientific fields.
  • Questions/ issues addressed by the project

    Competing taxonomies cause confusion and inefficiencies among many users of the science. Our primary question is therefore whether a global mechanism for the governance of taxonomic lists can be developed through discussion among taxonomists and users that provides legitimacy, consistency and clarity to users of taxonomic lists while continuing to foster innovation in taxonomic science itself.

  • Outcomes expected 

    The project expects to strengthen existing institutions attempting to seamlessly coordinate taxonomic lists so that a comprehensive taxonomic list of the world's diversity is available to, and adopted by, major users of taxonomy across the globe such as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and its subsidiary agreements. Ultimately, it is likely that such a list would also be adopted at other international levels, and nationally because it would, through merit, become the world standard.

  • Leaders: Stephen Garnett, Les Christidis, Frank Zachos, Stijn Conix, Kevin Thiele, Mark Costello
  • IUBS National Committees involved in the project: Australia, Germany, New Zealand, Russia




A single global list of all life forms has been an aspiration of taxonomists since Linnaeus. In recent decades there has indeed been much progress towards this goal but there is a final body of work required to complete the task. In particular there is a need for a governance regime that can give confidence to the users of taxonomy that disputes are arbitrated in such a manner that taxonomic treatments are both internally consistent and reflect the best science. This project aims to develop that governance regime, bringing together lead taxonomists, principal users of taxonomy, existing aggregators of taxonomic lists and governance experts to ensure that there is a sole source of taxonomic authority to which users from around the globe can refer and that bears the stamp of approval from the IUBS.


Competing taxonomies are one of the most vexing issues in biology. The question as to which species list best represents current taxonomic thought is not only of academic interest, but has serious downstream consequences. This project arises from a debate about global governance concerning taxonomic decisions about species and the confusion and inefficiencies caused by having multiple taxonomic treatments of the same group of organisms. While the initial response from the taxonomic community was disquiet that academic freedom would in part be constrained, there was agreement that a solution needs to be found and that there is merit in completion of long-held ambitions to create a single widely-accepted global list of species names. Such coordination and communication would lead to cost-efficiencies and improved quality-control in taxonomy, thereby helping accelerate taxonomic revisions, understanding of phylogenies and evolution, and provision of identification guides to users of names in the conservation and wider science communities. A possible solution demonstrated by the marine biology community is a more centralised technical management of names managed and owned by a social network of hundreds of taxonomic experts. The challenge here is not technical, but getting specialists to cooperate for the greater good, and some institutions to support the technical infrastructure. We believe neither challenge in superable. This project seeks to bring the specialist communities together to chart a common vision for taxonomy.


Links with international programmes or networks:

Under the auspices of the ICB, the project will be presented to the Consortium for European Taxonomic Facilities (CETAF), International Association for Plant Taxonomy (IAPT), International Commission on the Taxonomy of Fungi (ICTF), International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN), Organisation for Phyto-Taxonomic Investigation of the Mediterranean Area (OPTIMA), International Society for Phylogenetic Nomenclature (ISPN), International Commission for the Nomenclature of Cultivated Plants (ICNCP) and Biodiversity Information Standards (Taxonomic Databases Working Group) (TDWG) at a session to be held at the centenary of the IUBS in Oslo in July 2019. A result of this workshop could be that we run an IUBS program with the object of establishing an International Committee on Taxonomy (ICT).


11 Jul 2020 · Taxonomy / Nomenclature

Governance of Global Taxonomic Lists Programme suggests Ten Principles for Taxonomy

In a recent paper, the members of the IUBS Scientific Programme "Governance of Global Taxonomic Lists" suggest a set of ten principles for creating and governing lists of the world’s species, and a proposed governance mechanism for ensuring that the lists are well-managed and broadly acceptable. Prof. Stephen Garnett of Charles Darwin University, the paper’s lead author and one of the Leaders of the  Governance of Global Taxonomic Lists programme says, "Listing all species may sound routine, but is a difficult and complex task. Currently no single, agreed list of species is available. Instead, some iconic groups of organisms such as mammals and birds have several competing lists, while other less well-known groups have none."

This causes problems for organizations and governments that need reliable, agreed, scientifically defensible and accurate lists for the purposes of conservation, international treaties, biosecurity, and regulation of trade in endangered species. The lack of an agreed list of all species also hampers researchers studying Earth’s biodiversity. The new paper outlines a potential solution in the form of a set of ten principles for global taxonomic lists and a governance mechanism for them. 

Read more
10 Jul 2020 · Taxonomy / Nomenclature

First Workshop for Governance of Global Taxonomic Lists

In February 2020 the first of a series of three IUBS supported workshops under the 'Governance of Global Taxonomic Lists' Programme was held in Darwin Australia to help develop a governance framework for taxonomists and the users of taxonomy that they can then use to decide which names should be used by society, while continuing to encourage taxonomic research.

The purpose of the workshop was to start resolving the outstanding issues surrounding a set of principles for unified list creation and refine them for publication as the first stage in developing a conversation among the global community of taxonomists and the users of taxonomy. Further activities will include development and submission of manuscripts on achievements and gaps in global list assembly, a governance regime for a global list describing the potential to shift from polycentric to federalist governance, the minimum requirements for inclusion on a global list, and balancing the scientific independence of taxonomy with an aspiration to involve users of taxonomic lists.