The COL community
Collaborating to list the world's species
A global collaboration
This page explains the partnerships that enable the Catalogue of Life to build and share the COL Checklist. See Roles and Responsibilities below to see how you can help with COL’s mission.
No expert knows all species, so COL brings together lists developed by communities of taxonomists familiar with each taxonomic group. Each of these communities contributes a checklist that aims to be the best possible modern globally complete listing and classification for all species in the group, including all known historical names for each species (as synonyms). These community-managed checklists serve as sectors in the COL Checklist.
Taxonomic communities develop these checklists as part of their own research activities or directly for COL. Communities use a variety of tools and software to maintain their lists, but they all then publish a dataset on the Internet using formats and data standards that allow COL to process the data. COL supports multiple formats so that data publication can be as flexible as possible. COL shares responsibility with these communities for ensuring that the COL Checklist is current, well maintained and of the highest quality possible.
COL, in partnership with the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), maintains COL ChecklistBank, a public checklist repository that brings together the latest versions of the checklists for each taxonomic sector, along with thousands of other species checklists shared by researchers and other contributors. These include summaries from new taxonomic publications, national or local checklists, lists of threatened or invasive species, etc. Checklists published to this repository are readily discoverable and citable and can be downloaded both in their original form and in a standard interpreted format. All published checklists can be searched, browsed, downloaded or accessed via a standard Application Programming Interface (API). In this way, COL ChecklistBank serves as a rich resource for discovering how any scientific name has been used in different contexts. Some of the names found in these checklists do not yet appear in any community-managed sector checklist, so COL ChecklistBank is also a tool for addressing gaps in COL.
COL and GBIF have also developed a software workbench that brings together the contents of all component taxon checklists to form the COL Checklist, an integrated catalogue that develops and improves as the taxonomic communities work on each sector. At any time, users and applications can search, browse and download this expert-reviewed catalogue or access it via the same API that is available for every other checklist in COL ChecklistBank.
The COL Checklist is not yet complete or up to date for all taxonomic groups and all published scientific names. COL continues to engage with taxonomists and taxonomic publishers to fill these gaps. In the meantime, the COL Checklist uses automated processing within the software workbench to construct placeholder sections of the catalogue and to insert names that are not otherwise included. These automated additions have not been formally reviewed by a sector community and may contain errors, but they address the need of many users (including GBIF) for the COL Checklist to handle all scientific names in a predictable fashion. All records in the COL Checklist are annotated to show their source and review status. At any time, users can choose to view or access either the entire constructed list or just the reviewed components of the COL Checklist. Viewing just the reviewed sections corresponds in purpose to historical versions of the COL Checklist from before 2020. At any time, users can switch between these two views, which can also both be accessed through the API.
COL aims to deliver the most accurate and complete checklist possible. To achieve this goal, it is developing a model that tracks multiple aspects of the review status for each name and species within the COL Checklist:
- Has a nomenclator or taxonomic community verified the publication details for each scientific name?
- Has a taxonomic community reviewed whether each scientific name should be accepted or treated as a synonym?
- Has a taxonomic community reviewed all species included within a given taxon (genus, etc.) at the global scale?
The last of these checks reflects the difficulty of achieving a fully consistent global view when most taxonomists for the group work only on a regional fauna or flora.
Extended information on species
In many cases, the taxonomic communities that contribute sectors to the COL Checklist maintain additional information about their species beyond simple naming and classification, particularly on distributions and ecological relationships. COL aims to support efficient management and access for this more extensive species information, so users of COL may discover much greater detail for some groups than others.
Roles and responsibilities
The Catalogue of Life is an international collaborative activity with many contributors. COL ChecklistBank gives any interested researchers free access to share their checklist data. For the COL Checklist, COL itself undertakes a set of responsibilities to deliver a high-quality product that gives credit to the taxonomic communities that supply the core content. At the same time, COL depends on these communities to follow common principles focused on developing consensus around quality checklist datasets. This pages explains the roles and responsibilities of COL and of the taxonomic communities in this process, as well as ways that users can help to support the work.
The role of taxonomic communities
Each taxonomic community that contributes a sector to the COL Checklist assumes responsibility for the quality of their contributions. These communities may take different forms and contribute their expertise to COL by different routes. However, each taxonomic community contributing a sector aims to do the following:
- Provide a comprehensive listing and original references for the names, species and classification for a specified taxonomic group, in line with the best supported modern scientific understanding
- Publish this information in a supported machine-readable format with helpdesk support where needed
- Publish this information using the COL data licensing model (CC0 licences preferred but CC BY supported)
- Optionally, publish other species information as part of these datasets
- Operate as an open community with an appropriate model that allows other taxonomists working on the group to contribute and become part of the community
- Have an appropriate process for addressing differences in opinion/interpretation of taxonomy for the group, for example by supplementing a best-consensus view with alternative perspectives on species concepts that are still under debate
- Respond appropriately and efficiently to new additions, updates, user comments and corrections
The role of Catalogue of Life
COL partners with GBIF and other communities and infrastructures to deliver a trusted, open and freely usable catalogue of all species. The COL works with user communities to ensure that the COL Checklist, tools and services support the widest possible range of needs. COL supports taxonomic effort by promoting and facilitating best practice in citing the efforts of taxonomic communities and of individual taxonomists.
COL commits to do the following:
- Deliver the COL Checklist as a comprehensive reference that includes all species at the highest quality possible
- Ensure that the needs both of taxonomic communities and users are addressed
- Oversee endorsement processes to select and support taxonomic communities committed to collaborative development of the best possible checklist for each sector of the COL Checklist
- Facilitate a smooth transition when a contributing community is no longer able to maintain a COL-compliant sector checklist
- Streamline new content, updates and suggested corrections for easy curation by sector taxonomic communities
- Oversee the automated construction of the best possible checklist content for taxonomic groups lacking a community
- Maintain stable identifiers and version histories for all data
- Ensure that users have the tools and information properly to cite and acknowledge COL and the work of contributing communities and individual taxonomists
- Track citations of the COL Checklist, sector datasets and individual species records
- Provide regular reporting to contributing communities on usage of data shared through COL
- Evolve and enhance the COL infrastructure, tools and services to meet new opportunities and challenges
- Develop new pathways to augment or enhance data associated with species and names
- Secure funding to maintain the infrastructure and, if funding allows, to support the curation activities of taxonomic communities
The role of users
Taxonomic research is challenging and complex and requires scientists to dedicate many years to understanding the variation and biology of the organisms they study. Their efforts open the door for all other workers who survey and monitor the world’s biodiversity. However, all of this effort is rarely recognised. Users of COL can help to address this by ensuring they use COL citation tools to acknowledge the work of these taxonomists.
Users are urged to support COL in the following ways:
- Recognise the limitations and any known issues associated with COL content, particularly noting where content has not yet been reviewed by a taxonomic community
- Use the COL citation tools to give clear attribution for the COL Checklist and the work of contributing communities and individual taxonomists
- Submitting updates and corrections where issues are noted in the content of the COL Checklist