Electronic revolution in zoological taxonomy


BioMed Central first approached the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN), the body providing the rules by which animal species are named, in September 2005. We wanted to ensure that our journals best served the needs of the taxonomy and biodiversity research communities and ensure that we complied with the rules of the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature.

In order to comply with ‘the Code’, BioMed Central had to guarantee that printed copies of papers describing zoological taxa were available at five major publicly accessible libraries. This was a slightly bizarre state of affairs in the digital age, when anyone could simply access the article online.

The ICZN proposed a revision to ‘the Code’ in 2008, to expand the methods of publication allowable and explicitly include electronic publications. Four years later, and after much debate, the ICZN has now voted to recognise electronic-only publication as ‘legitimate’ if the publication is registered in the ICZN’s official online registry, ZooBank.

This is a highly significant development for BioMed Central’s online open access journals given the wealth of zoological taxonomic research we publish.

In an interview for BMC Evolutionary Biology outlining the changes to ‘the Code’, Dr Frank-Thorsten Krell – Curator of Entomology at the Department of Zoology, Denver Museum of Nature & Science, and Commissioner of the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature and Chair of the ICZN ZooBank Committee – discusses the implications the new code has for authors and Editors.

We had arrived at the awkward situation that open access papers, having the widest possible availability to readers, were unavailable for nomenclature.

Dr Frank-Thorsten Krell, Commissioner, ICZN

As well as allowing publication in a wider range of sources, Dr Krell points out that publication in online open access journals actually improves upon the existing requirement within ‘the Code’ to disseminate findings widely. Ironically, before this change publication in obscure and little-read print journals would fit the letter of ‘the Code’, while respected, highly-read and open access online publications were excluded.

The new amendment to the International Code of Zoological Nomenclatures brings zoology in line with the requirements of botanists and mycologists who voted last year in favour of electronic publication resulting in an amendment to the International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi and plants. BioMed Central is updating its editorial policies to ensure that taxonomic publications in our journals conform to the various requirements of each Code.

The great hope is that MycoBank, ZooBank and other similar online resources will have the transformative effect on taxonomic science that GenBank did for the genomics community. Now the challenge is to fill them with taxonomic data.

Our thanks to the ICZN for fruitful discussions over the years and to our colleagues Matt Cockerill, Philippa Harris, Matt Hodgkinson, Genevieve Horne, Helen Whitaker and Hans Zauner for championing the cause over the last 7 years.

Tim Sands PhD
Executive Editor, BMC Evolutionary Biology

Elizabeth C Moylan PhD
Biology Editor, BMC series journals

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