Compiling a list of earth’s creatures

A coyote appears in snow. For the first time, scientists developed a roadmap to list all of the world’s known species. Credit: John Carr / USFWS

For the first time, researchers have agreed on a roadmap for listing all of the world’s known species. “Listing all species may sound routine but is a difficult and complex task,” says Stephen Garnett of Charles Darwin University, the paper’s lead author. “Currently no single, agreed list of species is available.”

The authors outline a solution using a set of ten principles to create and govern lists of the world’s species, including mammals, birds, plants, fungi and microbes. The principles include basing the list on science and keeping it free from non-taxonomic considerations.

Not having an agreed upon list causes problems for organizations and governments that need accurate lists for conservation, international treaties, biosecurity and regulations of trade of endangered species, the researchers say. As species face increasing threats, they say, a reliable list of species is necessary.

Read the study in PLOS Biology.