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International agreement takes Catalogue of Life forward

There is no catalogue of the known organisms on Earth - a fact that surprises many outside the sphere of biodiversity - but a significant step was taken recently towards producing such an index when an international agreement was signed to help develop the Catalogue of Life.

Professor Frank Bisby, of the School of Plant Sciences at the University of Reading, and Dr Michael Ruggiero in Washington, DC, signed agreements with the intergovernmental Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), based in Copenhagen, Denmark. The partners agreed to use the developing Catalogue of Life, a comprehensive electronic index of all known organisms, as the core species index for GBIF.

The Catalogue of Life programme is principally run by Species 2000, based in Reading, and the North American Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS), based at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.

The GBIF will enable scientists and citizens alike to navigate, extract and analyse the world's vast amounts of biodiversity information. It will enable them to put it to use in generating the economic, environmental, social and scientific benefits from the sustainable use, conservation and study of biodiversity resources (www.gbif.org). In particular, it will make the world's primary biodiversity data on specimens available from the natural history museum collections, botanical gardens, zoos, culture collections, libraries and associated databases all around the world. To do this, it is evolving an interoperable network of the appropriate biodiversity databases and information technology tools.

Professor Bisby, Executive Director of Species 2000, which is a not-for-profit organisation acting as a federation of taxonomic database organisations around the world, said: "The endorsement and partnership that GBIF brings to the programme is expected to make this a major milestone in the already developing global Catalogue of Life programme with partner organisations around the world.

"These partner organisations specialise in plant, animal, fungal and microbial biodiversity, and work to provide and maintain relevant sectors of the distributed database system. Major partners in the UK include the Natural History Museum, London, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and CABI Bioscience.

"It is anticipated that the synonymic species checklist pioneered by the Catalogue of Life partnership and made available through this new agreement, will play a key role in the name-service and indexing functions of the GBIF portal."

University of Reading. January 2004.

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