Major step towards single global bird taxonomy announced

Credit: Text - BirdGuides News and Photo - Ian Bollen

The International Ornithologists' Union (IOU) has formed the Working Group on Avian Checklists (WGAC) with a view to produce and maintain an open-access global checklist of bird species that will unify different taxonomies.

The checklist will be kept on the IOU website and is intended to serve as the benchmark reference for all taxa of the class Aves. Renowned representatives of the international community of professional avian systematists will compile and maintain the list.

Green-winged Teal
Green-winged Teal is recognised by some taxonomic authorities as a full species, but others treat it as a subspecies of Eurasian Teal © Ian Bollen

It will classify birds from class to subspecies, based on up-to-date, corroborative information on phylogeny and the differentiation of species and subspecies. It will also provide authors and references to the original description of all taxa of all ranks covered by the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN). Type localities for species and subspecies, and type taxa for all ranks from subgenus to superfamily, will be specified. Sources for taxonomic and nomenclatural decisions also will be referenced.

Although English names for species will be drawn primarily from the IOC World Bird List, modifications to better align with preferences of checklist committees of individual continents, such as the North American Checklist Committee (NACC) and South American Checklist Committee (SACC) will also be incorporated. Geographic distributions will synchronise with those in the Birds of the World project.

For this enormous undertaking, the WGAC will be split into two teams overseen by its Chair. One, the taxonomic team, will be responsible for all classificatory decisions and for the geographical distribution of species-group taxa. The other team will comprise experienced bibliographers who will provide authors, dates, references to original publications of names, type data and nomenclatural explanations.

Heading the project are Les Christidis, WGAC Chair and former co-editor of the passerine volume of the Howard & Moore Complete Checklist of the Birds of the World edition 4; Frank Rheindt, WGAC deputy chair and ICZN commissioner; and David Donsker from the IOC World Bird List, who will coordinate the bibliographic entry programme. Members of checklist committees of individual continents are also included, such as the NACC and SACC.

Under the direction of Marshall Iliff, eBird project leader, the technical infrastructure, database, and linkages to external digital resources will be coordinated at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, one of the foremost interfaces between ornithological science and the broader ornithological community in the world. The database will be built in collaboration with Denis Lepage, creator of Avibase, and firmly rooted in the adoption of taxonomic concepts.

The final checklist will produce more than just a list of species and recommended names. It will provide, through its detailed fields and connections to external references, the basic information for all ornithology – professional ornithologists, citizen scientists, conservationists and students – to draw on the full record of diversity of earth's birdlife.

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