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Species Brainstorming

Note: the original name of the proposed microformat, "species", is likely to change, probably to "biota" or "taxon". The former has been retained here, to avoid having to make many repetitive and perhaps redundant edits
updated! The Operator extension now detects Species. A test page is available. Work on both continues!

Andy Mabbett


There should, I believe, be a "species" microformat for the markup of plant and animal names, to include their scientific names. Consider:

<abbr class="species" title="Anas platyrhynchos">Mallard</abbr>


<span class="species">Anas platyrhynchos</span>

The microformat would allow user agents to be configured to perform look-ups on on-line databases of species, according to user preferences. Specification of the taxonomic class would help user agents to know which such databases were applicable (i.e., use database A for plants, but database B for mammals and database C for insects.)

It would also allow for more specific searching (do I mean "crow" or do I mean "Corvus corone"?).

The specification should encourage, but not mandate, the correct capitalisation of scientific names, so "Anas platyrhynchos'" not "anas platyrhynchos" nor (except historically) "Anas Platyrhynchos". A reminder that such names should be styled with italics will also be included.

Straw man proposal

See : species-strawman-01

Bill Hull

My website has 17000+ photos of 4700+ bird species. There are also a handful of butterflies (organized very poorly as I am unaware of any published butterfly world taxonomies) and shortly will have a number of dragon/damselflies. The site is made up of static pages but is built from a database so it is easy for me to add it new HTML tags to the pages. If you are interested in some prototyping at some point I can probably build stuff into the pages. - Bill Hull

Roger Hyam

Taxonomic Databases Working Group

TDWG is the organisation for standardisation in exchange of biodiversity data. The organisation has now (November 2007) undergone some re-organization. It has a new collaborative development environment, standards process, standards architecture and it has formed alliances with major organizations in the domains of geospatial and ecological data.

Central to the TDWG standards architecture are the LSID vocabularies. The role of these vocabularies is to define URIs for the nuts-and-bolts concepts that occur in the biodiversity informatics domain. See a description of what the TDWG ontology is for details. Although the vocabularies are defined in OWL the intention is for their URIs to be used as namespaces across different XML and non-XML based technologies. They can act as a central mapping point for those hard pressed developers who want to combine data presented to them in many formats.

The species microformats that are proposed here are a good thing. The only danger is that they re-define any of the central terms defined in the TDWG vocabularies. If they do that then they are creating another language instead of extending HTML to embrace existing semantics - which I don't think is their intent. It would be nice to have the data in web pages in a form that can be combined with the hundreds of millions of records marked up with the TDWG URIs.

If there is enough belief in the need for a Species Microformat why not propose a TDWG Applicability Statement and take it through a peer review process. The TDWG process is quite simple and free (unless you count blood, sweat and tears). You would need to form a Task Group with a charter saying what you intended to do. As convener of the TAG Interest Group I would willingly host the Task Group. You could then propose a standard and have it reviewed by a range of biologists and IT people before it becomes ratified and recommended for adoption. RogerHyam 2007-11-5

Malcolm Storey

(extracted from e-mails to Andy Mabbett, by kind permission)

ICZN, ICBN et al

You don't cover the full set of levels of taxonomic hierarchy defined by the relevant body ICZN or ICBN (plus the others - one each for garden plant varieties, bacteria, viruses. Don't know about mycoplasmas, diseases, BSE factors etc.

ICBN Ranks listed [1], [2]

AIUI ICBN only goes down to species.

ICZN isn't so easy: [3]

1.2.2. The Code regulates the names of taxa in the family group, genus group, and species group. Articles 1-4, 7-10, 11.1-11.3, 14, 27, 28 and also regulate names of taxa at ranks above the family group. (But none of the above articles list the taxonomic ranks.)

ICZN Only goes down to subspecies (art 1.3.4)

Note also:

1.4. Independence. Zoological nomenclature is independent of other systems of nomenclature in that the name of an animal taxon is not to be rejected merely because it is identical with the name of a taxon that is not animal (see Article 1.1.1)

(eg Trichia, Oenanthe, Melanotus)

Myxomycetes are the exception - they're in kingdom protozoa which falls under ICZN but they fall under the ICBN name space. (Hence "Trichia").


You may want to consider refs to DNA sequences. They're not part of taxonomy, but they can be considered the bottom rung of the taxonomic hierarchy and they will be of increasing significance.


what about Adalia 2-punctata, and Adalia bipunctata (not to mention those with hyphens [or apostrophes] which may get left out. And what about accented characters)?

Adalia 2-punctata is an abbreviation of Adalia bipunctata, so:
<abbr class="binominal" title="Adalia bipunctata">Adalia 2-punctata</abbr>

AndyMabbett 09:55, 21 Oct 2006 (PDT)


The hierarchy is not always fully populated. Not every species belongs to a class. Maybe this was where fungi are different. In Paul Kirk's databases (which are the official ones used to drive the checklists and NBN) he has fixed fields for the higher level taxa which means that only certain ranks can be used. The blanks he fills in (mostly!!) with "insertae sedis" (think it's Latin for "unknown seat"). In my database I use a self-join which gives much more flexibility. Anyway there are lots of "insertae sedis" in Paul's database!


Apion carduorum sensu Morris 1990 is Apion gibbirostre (Gyllenhal, 1813). Apion carduorum Kirby, 1808 is a different species.

You'd mark the former up as something like
<abbr class="binominal" title="Apion gibbirostre">''Apion carduorum'' sensu Morris 1990</abbr>
AndyMabbett 12:21, 5 Oct 2006 (PDT)

Citations for authorites

If people are citing the authority in full they would include the literature reference, not just the date e.g.

Cuphophyllus niveus (Scop.) Bon, Doc. Mycol. 14(56): 11 (1985)[1984]
Perhaps we should allow for the inclusion of an hCitation? Andy Mabbett 15:08, 28 Feb 2007 (PST)


Nomenclatural challenge

You asked for comments. One challenge I see is the difference in Nomenclature for Animalia and Plantae (coming from the old 2 kingdom system). For Plantae the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature[4] is used and for Animalia the code from http://www.iczn.org/. Animalia code is not officially accepted but ICZN tries to be authoritive starting from 2008.

The two different nomenclatural systems differ in a few areas, and they affect markup.

--Hyppo 14:23, 9 Oct 2006 (PDT)
I would mark those up as:
<span class=genus">Dendroceros</span> subg. <span class="subgenus">Apoceros</span>
<span class=genus">Sula</span> <span class="subgenus">Morus</span>
<span class="binominal">Begonia grandis</span> ssp. <span class="subspecies">evansiana''</span>
<span class="binominal">Gorilla beringei</span> <span class="subspecies">graueri</span>
With wrapping class="biota" and possibly kingdom, attributes.
AndyMabbett 11:37, 10 Oct 2006 (PDT)

Cyndy Parr

The ideas expressed here are promising. Below are my comments on all the preceding -- as I have time I'll organize, elaborate, and try to move parts into the right discussion threads above.

In the Spire project we have been developing ontologies in OWL for taxonomic names and hierarchies. Ideally, we'd like to have a microformat where people can tag a scientific name and an application can then check an ontology of their choice for more information (richer semantics).

We would discourage full expression of the Linnaean hierarchy except for those who are maintaining such classifications (such as uBio). The rest of the hierarchy can be retrieved ontologically as necessary.

Better to tie the scientific name (taxon name) to the authority or ontology from which it came. I.e. for those who are able to provide information on taxonomic concepts, support for TCS (Taxonomic Concept Schema) fields would be important.

I prefer "taxon" or "taxon-name" or TaxonName over biota (which is plural, and too close to biotic which has a far larger scope than taxa). Would prefer "binomial" to "binominal"

"class" is difficult not only because of the confusion with the programming concept of classes, but because it is a taxonomic rank. However, most of us have figured out the difference by now so this is not critical.

"cname" should be "comname" or "common-name" or "vernacular" to make it more obvious what the information is. A sub-component would be the language for which that common name is used ( something like an HTML attribute lang="en")

There are known conflicts between names across kingdoms (as current codes of nomenclature allow these). Thus specification of kingdom may be encouraged. Disambiguation could be handled by applications outside the microformats (this could be difficult), or they could be dealt with in the core microformat: e.g. plant-taxon or fungal-taxon or animal-taxon.

A sightings microformat is a good idea and I would be interested in being involved in that. We've been toying with this in OWL and also using structured blogging over at http://fieldmarking.reger.com

Your terms such as gender (better: sex), age bracket (better: life stage), count, type (better: depending on the meaning, caste or morph) all belong in a specimen or sighting microformat and used in combination with the taxon microformat, not be part of it.

Response by Andy Mabbett

Thank you very much for your detailed contribution. I have a few responses:

  <span class="taxon lsidres:urn:lsid:ubio.org:namebank:21833">
    <i class="sci-name">Passeriformes</i>

Or, to simplify further:

  <i class="taxon sci-name lsidres:urn:lsid:ubio.org:namebank:21833">Passeriformes</i>

Or, at the simplest level:

  <i class="taxon">Passeriformes</i>

Simply marking up the word as a taxon would lighten the load of any parser, making its job much simpler. --Charles Roper 10:50, 8 Jan 2007 (PST)

(I'm either in agreement with your other points, or ambivalent.)

Thank you again - do stick around. Are you on the mailing list?

Andy Mabbett 11:06, 5 Jan 2007 (PST)


Unfortunately scientific names seem to change as often as common names. I have some examples and use cases this microformat needs to address, around the problems of ambiguity:

Ambiguity 1. Ambiguous scientific names.. Sousa chinensis may either refer to Chinese White Dolphin (also known as Sousa chinensis chinensis) or Humpback dolphin, also known as Sousa (genus) which includes up to five species or subspecies of dolphin including the Chinese White Dolphin. I don't care whether the Chinese White Dolphin is a species or subspecies, but the microformat needs to allow the user to be specific about which system is being addressed.

Ambiguity 2. Another example is the Orangutan... or Orangutans. Organutans were once believed to be a single species, but are now considered two separate species. The problem is that the new scientific name for just the Bornean species (Pongo pygmaeus) is the same as the old scientific name which encompassed both species (Pongo pygmaeus). Meanwhile the new scientific name for the Sumatran Orangutan (Pongo abelii) is always unambiguous.

Ambiguity 3. Doronomyrmex pocahontas is an ant species that probably doesn't belong in the genus Doronomyrmex, but rather Leptothorax. But, until a full taxonomic study of the known species of Doronomyrmex and Leptothorax is carried out, it will stay there. Meanwhile the the term "Leptothorax (sensu stricto)" is used to mean "in the sense of the original author".

Use cases: So how do we:

  1. tag species in new documents, where we are using the most current nomenclature in the tags, to indicate that we don't mean the old nomenclature
  2. tag species allowing for new nomenclature to arise which may obsolete what we're using
  3. tag species in old documents, where we have updated the nomenclature in the tag, but the taxt may be referring to the old nomenclature, and we want to indicate that the updated nomenclature is being used.
  4. tag species in [others'] documents that are tagged automatically and where the specific nomenclature being used is unknown or ambiguous
  5. address issues where competing nomenclatures exist side-by-side, or transition periods
  6. tag species that have some clues as to which nomenclature is being used, e.g. the date of publication, and the author.
  7. tag a taxon which is now considered paraphyletic
  8. decide what's out of the scope of this microformat

Brainstorm solutions:

<span species="Pongo pygmaeus" old-synonym="Pongo pygmaeus pygmaeus">Bornean Orangutan</span>

Basically I don't synonyms are necessary unless they are to show that the species was previously called something else, which may help to give a more exact meaning.

Comments? Are there already existing solutions to this problem in the real world? Pengo 19:49, 28 Jan 2007 (PST)

Response to Pengo by Andy Mabbett

Thank you for your expert contribution. Of your proposed solutions, the common (or vernacular) name, UID and author/ year are already in the current proposal. It may be sensible to have a "synonym" property (as used on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doronomyrmex_pocahontas), but I don't think "old-synonym" is particularly well named. Perhaps, if it's needed at all, "formerly" would be better? It is worth remembering, though, that the microformat is meant for labelling what people already publish and, for instance, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bornean_Orangutan refers to Pongo pygmaeus, not any previous name. Andy Mabbett 02:20, 30 Jan 2007 (PST)

Charles Roper


I found an interesting example of synonym usage in the Tiger Beetles of Connecticut checklist. In the particular example cited, the synonyms refer to, or are associated with, the species name - Cicindela duodecimguttata Dejean 1825. Synonyms are often mentioned alongside or near preferred scientific names; how should we tie them together, especially when, as in this case, the name and the synonym are not positioned close to one another, but are still clearly associated? As a segue to this question, how should multiple synonymous common names be represented? How about common names in different languages? For example, the Otter has many different common names.

I take it you refer to the text which may be paraphrased (by omitting some prose) as:
Cicindela duodecimguttata is known from 23 localities. Cicindela duodecimguttata, once classified as a subspecies of C. repanda, shares many traits with C. repanda. Where C. duodecimguttata occurs, the more common C. repanda is usually found.
Synonomies: Cicindela proteus Kirby 1837:9. Cicindela bucolica Casey 1913:28. Cicindela hudsonica Casey 1916:29. Cicindela edmontonensis Carr 1920:21
The problem would seem to be that C. repanda is referred to both as a species in its own right, and as a past synonym of C. duodecimguttata. If the whole thing is wrapped in one div class="biota", allowing the other listed synonyms to be included, then how is C. repanda to be marked up as a species in its own right?
I would mark up the first occurrence of each, then use the include-pattern to "attach" the other listed synonyms with the former (I've only included one synonym in the following, for clarity):

<span class="biota">

 <span class="binominal">Cicindela duodecimguttata</span>
 <object class="include" data="#C-proteus"></object>


is known from 23 localities. Cicindela duodecimguttata, once classified as a subspecies of

<span class="biota">

 <span class="binominal">C. repanda</span>


, shares many traits with C. repanda. Where C. duodecimguttata occurs, the more common C. repanda is usually found.

Synonomies: <span class="synonym" id="C-proteus">

 <span class="binominal">Cicindela proteus</span> [or maybe "synonym-binominal" ?]
 <span class="authority">Kirby</span>
 <span class="year">1837</span>:9.</span>

Cicindela bucolica Casey 1913:28. Cicindela hudsonica Casey 1916:29. Cicindela edmontonensis Carr 1920:21

I might then use the its entry on the "shares many traits" line to mark up C. repanda as an synonym, and include it in the same way.
Multiple and foreign-language common names would be catered for by allowing the common name attribute to be "0 or many" (the first such occurrence having precedence), and using a lang attribte where appropraite.
Andy Mabbett 14:42, 28 Feb 2007 (PST)

Ryan Kaldari

1. The name of this microformat needs to be changed ASAP. Calling it "species" is confusing and misleading. There was even resistance to implementing this microformat in Wikipedia solely because of the confusing name.[5]

2. Synonyms should be added as a node to the format.

3. I wouldn't worry too much about accommodating LSIDs specifically, as it seems to be a rapidly dying format. Just concentrate on accommodating GUIDs in general (of any format) and identifying them as such. Also, keep in mind that many objects are going to have more than one GUID (even though this is discouraged), so we should be able to accommodate this.

Other use cases

Please add your suggestions!

'Species' microformats could be used to:

See also

species-brainstorming was last modified: Monday, March 22nd, 2010