Donat Agosti on access to data on biodiversity

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Thu, 26 Jan 2006 00:22:15 +0000

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Wed, 25 Jan 2006 23:48:44 +0100
From: Donat Agosti <>

Biodiversity data are out of local taxonomists^“ reach

SIR ^◊ Exchange of information about biodiversity is mandated by the
legally binding international Convention on Biological Diversity, as are
monitoring and benefit sharing. Yet researchers in the developing world,
where most of the biodiversity is found, are unable to access much of
this information. This impedes the monitoring of biodiversity: monitoring
depends on the proper identification of species, and this is hindered by
a lack of both specialists and access to relevant taxonomic information.
The number of online publications with taxonomic content is increasing,
and online tools are becoming available to mash up taxonomic with other
information, for example at (see ^”Mashups mix data into
global service^‘ Nature 439, 6^÷7; 2006). But copyright and high costs
put this information beyond the reach of many in the developing world ^◊
which is home to more than 95% of specieswhose descriptions have been
published. More than half the 1,600 descriptions of new ant species
published in the past ten years are copyrighted, for example, but none
are in journals published in the developing world (see
This seems little better than biopiracy: taking biodiversity material
from the developing world for profit, without sharing benefit or providing
the people who live there with access to this crucial information.

A simple solution would be to treat species descriptions as we do gene
sequences, and have them openly accessible. Open-access descriptions of
new species could then be a mandatory factor in making them valid under
the various codes of biological nomenclature. A recent Commentary by
Andrew Polaszek and colleagues (^”A universal register for animal names^‘
Nature 437, 477; 2005) describes how the International Commission
on Zoological Nomenclature proposes to facilitate this process for
animal descriptions, through a register called ZooBank. However,
present copyright laws prevent the mandatory inclusion of what would
be an immensely useful piece of information, the actual description of
the species.

Donat Agosti
American Museum of Natural History,
New York, New York 10024-5192, USA

Dr. Donat Agosti
Research Associate, American Museum of Natural History and Smithsonian
Dalmaziquai 45
3005 Bern
+41-31-351 7152
Received on Thu Jan 26 2006 - 00:29:25 GMT

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.3.0 : Fri Dec 10 2010 - 19:48:11 GMT