New animal species now official when published online

The International Commission for Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN), the body that regulates animal species names, took a big step earlier this week when it announced that electronic publication of a new species name is now sufficient to make that name official.

Prior to the announcement, the ICZN code stated that a new species name only became official once it was printed. The stipulation was intended to ensure that records of species names were securely archived and would remain accessible over the long term, but for an online-only publisher like PLOS, it meant that we had to print and store physical copies of each paper describing a new species in addition to our standard online publication. To put this in perspective, PLOS ONE published 25 papers presenting new animal species in 2011, and has already published 32 in 2012, including the tiny Brookesia chameleons pictured at the top of this post, so this additional printing and archiving is not trivial.

Now, though, the Commission has decided to adjust their standards in response to today’s increasingly electronic environment. According to the ICZN press release about the updated rules, the change “is intended to speed the process of publishing biodiversity information, to improve access to this information, and to help reduce the ‘taxonomic impediment’ that hinders our cataloguing of the living world.”

It won’t be a free-for-all: new species names must be published in journals or books with ISSNs or ISBNs, so purely web options like blogs or Wikipedia are not sufficient, and before publication authors must register their name with ZooBank, the official ICZN online registry for scientific names of animals. Overall, though, the hope is to reduce the barriers to proper nomenclature monitoring and archiving. The updated code is also in line with similar recent changes to the regulations for naming new botanical species.

The update is part of a broader discussion around how to ensure long-term reliability and durability for any type of electronic records, and while this problem may not yet be robustly solved, we at PLOS ONE applaud the ICZN’s efforts to address the changing needs of today’s scientists.

Image citation: Glaw F, Köhler J, Townsend TM, Vences M (2012) Rivaling the World’s Smallest Reptiles: Discovery of Miniaturized and Microendemic New Species of Leaf Chameleons (Brookesia) from Northern Madagascar. PLoS ONE 7(2): e31314. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0031314

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