Frequently Asked Questions


What is the Catalogue of Life?
The Catalogue of Life is the most comprehensive and authoritative global index of species currently available. It consists of a single integrated species checklist and taxonomic hierarchy. The Catalogue holds essential information on the names, relationships and distributions of over 1.9 million species. This figure continues to rise as information is compiled from diverse sources around the world. Read more.


Why is it important?
The loss and degradation of global biodiversity are vital concerns for humanity. There is currently no single, universal and complete reference to what species we think are alive today. Without this we can not sustainably use, explore, monitor, manage and protect biodiversity resources.

The Catalogue of Life is used to support the major biodiversity and conservation information services such as the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), Encyclopedia of Life (EoL) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List. It is recognised by the Convention on Biological Diversity as a significant component of the Global Taxonomy Initiative and a contribution to Target 1 of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation. Read more.


Who uses the Catalogue of LIfe?
The Catalogue of Life is widely used by organisations and individuals worldwide: Research scientists, policy and decision makers, citizen scientists and other global biodiversity programmes use it to:

  • Check the scientifically accepted name, spelling, alternative names and distribution of a species
  • Find the place of an organism in a consistent and integrated taxonomic hierarchy
  • Compile checklists of species in a particular area or taxonomic group using downloads
  • Download an electronic list for use in systems and portals
  • Provide an electronic taxonomic backbone for indexing and compiling other information
  • Carry out biodiversity analyses

To see how specific groups are using the Catalogue of Life please view our Case Studies section.


Which version is right for me?
The Dynamic Checklist is a constantly evolving version of the Catalogue of Life. Anything can change as the list develops: names, their associated details, and their content providers and there is no tracking of those changes. For that reason, the Dynamic Checklist is not the one to quote if you wish to cite a verifiable source. It is, however, a great 'expert system', helping those at the forefront of their science to track, and contribute to the development of taxonomy. Periodic issues are progressively enhanced, in what will evolve as a dynamically developing system, made available online and as web-services.

The Annual Checklist is a snapshot of the entire Catalogue of Life: a fixed imprint. If you quote an organism from this version, others will be able to turn to that same reference - at any point in the future. All editions of the Annual Checklist to date are available online, and deposited in libraries around the world. Partner programmes, that link online to the Catalogue of Life, will reference the Annual Checklist.


How do I know these data are reliable?
The Catalogue of Life depends upon the contributions of more than 150 Global Species Databases, established at centres of expertise around the world, and we continue to identify new data sources that address gaps in the Catalogue.

Global Species Databases are validated for inclusion by independent peer review, ensuring that the best available sources are identified. A few of the datasets contain data only for specific regions, where global coverage has not yet been achieved: these are clearly identified in the data. Completeness of data within individual databases is indicated within the dataset, based upon an assessment by the contributor.

The Catalogue of Life has also recently introduced Dataset Qualifiers which give users a quick guide to the reliability of presented data. Qualifiers have been given by authors/editors of each database and appear on the Database Details page, and also, alongside the database name on each Species Details page. Please note qualifiers reflect data reliability in the Catalogue of Life only, and are not applicable to the original source database if viewed through its own website. Dataset Qualifiers when missing show that they are yet to be implemented by the source database. Read more.


What classification system do you use?
The Catalogue of Life is a global species checklist which is organised in a single management classification. The management classification is a hierarchy that reflects an integration of taxonomic opinion for the purpose of arranging species checklists from different providers into one classification system.

The management classification includes five basic ranks:

  1. Group (Kingdom)
  2. Phylum
  3. Class
  4. Order
  5. Family

For some groups the rank of Superfamily is included to improve management classification. Read more.


Why would I use the Catalogue of Life?
You would use the Catalogue of Life because you are looking for a species list, classification or basic species information in a particular group that you are not specialised in. To find out how others are using the Catalogue of Life please see Who uses the Catalogue of LIfe?.


Why is my taxon missing?
The Catalogue of Life is not yet complete and covers only 84% of world diversity. The Catalogue of Life is not complete because there are no yet available digital resources for all taxa in the world. We are always looking to fill our gaps with the help of taxonomists worldwide (please see below).


I am a taxonomist working in one of your gap areas – can I help?
Yes! If you have a taxonomic database and would like to join the Species 2000 federation of databases in the Catalogue of Life please contact us. We are especially interested in taxonomists that are working in our gap areas.


Is there a user guide to help search the Catalogue and understand results?
Yes we have produced a User Guide to show you how the different functionality of the online Catalogue operates. Please let us know if you are not finding what you need.


How is the Catalogue of Life Funded?
The Catalogue of LIfe has been funded by a number of different European funding streams. Read more.


How do I add a Catalogue of Life search box to my own browser?
Please visit our Web Browser Plugin page