Trends and Developments in Biodiversity Informatics

Flora brasiliensis Revisited

Handling of taxonomic concepts in botanical databases

Marc Geoffroy, Anton Güntsch & Walter G. Berendsohn
Department of Biodiversity Informatics, Botanic Garden and Botanical Museum Berlin-Dahlem, Koenigin-Luise-Str. 6-8, 14191 Berlin, Germany

Factual information linked to taxon names is an important subset of environmental information and its relevance as a basis for political and economical decisions is increasing. Undoubtedly, there are a great number of taxon names that provide an excellent index to biological results, because the concept of the taxon (and sometimes even the name itself) is and has been the same over time. However, there are many examples where taxonomy and nomenclature seemingly fail to deliver the stable framework other branches of life sciences need to correlate and synthesize their results.

The problematic relationship between taxon concepts and their naming has been discussed before, e.g. when binomials and typification where introduced. A modern resurrection of the problem occurred when taxonomic databasing and attempts to link these databases revealed the inherent inconsistencies. The problem becomes ever more prevalent because of the rapidly increasing offer of information through global electronic networks, where the information is linked to taxon names but the information flow is not mediated by taxonomic experts.

The presentation attempts a quantification of the problem, a theoretical approach of it, and an indication of how biodiversity informatics can contribute to its solution. The quantification draws on a database of potential taxa of German mosses (Koperski et al. 2000). The analysis refers to the graph build on taxon concepts from disparate sources and on their relationships, to the new relationships that arise along the paths of such a graph and to the transmission quality of factual information originally linked to a particular taxon concept. The general architecture of a taxonomic information system providing mediated links between distributed factual databases is presented as work-in-progress (Project "A model for rule-based association of taxonomic concepts - MoReTax" funded by the German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation).

Corresponding author: Marc Geoffroy, e-mail:
MoReTax project:

Depto. Botânica, Instituto de Biologia, Unicamp
Centro de Referência em Informação Ambiental

Global Biodiversity Information Facility, GBIF Sistema Integrado de Informação Taxonômica, ITIS*Brasil Species 2000 International Working Group on Taxonomic Databases, TDWG U.S. Geological Survey, USGS Petrobras Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo, Fapesp Conselho Nacional de Pesquisa, CNPq Ministério da Ciência e Tecnologia, MCT