Research Highlights

How to draw up a global list of all species 

doi:10.1038/nindia.2020.108 Published online 9 July 2020

An international research team has drawn up 10 principles that, they say, would help catalogue in a single list all species on Earth — from mammals and birds to plants, fungi and microbes1. The principles would be an important step in managing and conserving all the world’s species for current and future generations, the researchers say.

Currently, no single, agreed list of species is available. Instead, some iconic groups of organisms such as mammals and birds have several competing lists.

The scientists, including botanist S. K. Barik, director of the CSIR-National Botanical Research Institute in Lucknow, India have defined a the principles for a unified global list. Such a list must be independent of political, economic, or other non-taxonomic considerations for scientific legitimacy and wide acceptance. 

The ten proposed principles

© Garnett, S. T. et al.

An authoritative list must be recognised and supported by both taxonomists and the users of taxonomy. All decisions about list composition must be transparent. It means that the list, like wiki technology, must be fully open access, archived, and with a conventional citation that indicates who was responsible for its editing and where it was published.

Besides recognising contributors, a global listing process needs to encompass global diversity and accommodate local knowledge of that diversity. “A single list of species would be of immense help to the users of India as several competing lists exist in the country, particularly for plants,” Barik says.


1. Garnett, S. T. et al. Principles for creating a single authoritative list of the world’s species. PLoS. Biol. (2020) doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.3000736