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The British List

Taxonomy and the British List

18 August 2016

Adoption of a global taxonomy

The Council of the British Ornithologists’ Union (BOU) recognises the value of the global harmonisation of avian taxonomy. Following unsuccessful attempts to seek an agreed European taxonomy it was announced in November 2015 that the BOU would disband its own Taxonomic Sub-committee and review the available global taxonomies with a view to adopt one system for all BOU activities, including the British List (for more information see https://www.bou.org.uk/british-list/taxonomy).

Notably, moving towards a single international harmonised taxonomy is one of the declared aims of the International Ornithologists’ Union (IOU), with a round table meeting being convened at 27th International Ornithological Congress in Vancouver, Canada in August 2018. However, BOU recognises that it may be many years before this is achieved and would like to harmonise its own taxonomy with a global list more rapidly, rather than waiting for a final global consensus to emerge.

A working group from BOU Council and the BOU Records Committee (BOURC) met in August 2016 to determine the criteria to be considered and the process for selecting which global taxonomy to adopt. Factors to be considered will include the regularity of updates to the taxonomy, and the extent to which the process for decision making is open and transparent, as well as being scientifically valid and consistent. The major current global taxonomies (Bird-Life International/HBW, Clements, IOC, Howard and Moore) will be contacted shortly and invited to provide information relating to these criteria. All of this information will be considered at a joint meeting of BOU Council and BOURC, following which a decision will be made regarding which global taxonomic system will be followed by BOU.

6 November 2015

For many years the BOU has been seeking to establish a unified European-wide taxonomic model. However, despite the best efforts of our own taxonomic group, little progress has been made, with five separate national taxonomic groups (including our own) not being able to reach a consensus via the Association of European Records and Rarities Committees (AERC) since its establishment in 1991.

With no resolution in sight, BOU Council feels that the continued existence of national groups, each understandably feeling an obligation to retain control of the taxonomy used for their own national lists, is not in the best interests of ornithology and is a barrier preventing the establishment of a unified European taxonomy.

With a view to resolving this issue, the BOU has therefore disbanded its own Taxonomic Sub-committee and we will now take time to review the available global taxonomies with a view to adopting one system for all BOU activities, including The British List. This decision does not imply any criticism of the excellent work carried out by the BOU’s Taxonomic Sub-committee over the years, but is a reflection of the importance that BOU Council places on establishing a unified European avian taxonomy.

Prior to the above, the BOU’s Taxonomic Sub-committee published their own guidelines on assigning species rank relating to the British List followed by a series of reports with taxonomic recommendations. These recommendations are considered by the Records Committee (BOURC) and are formally applied to the List on adoption by BOURC in their own reports.

BOU Guidelines for assigning species rank / Ibis 144: 518-525 (July 2002)

BOURC Taxonomic Sub-committee – 11th report
Ibis 158: 206–212 (January 2016)

BOURC Taxonomic Sub-committee – 10th report
Ibis 157: 193–200 (January 2015)

BOURC Taxonomic Sub-committee – 9th report
Ibis 155: 898-907 (October 2013)

BOURC Taxonomic Sub-committee – 8th report
Ibis 154: 874-883 (October 2012)

BOURC Taxonomic Sub-committee – 7th report
Ibis 153: 883-892 (October 2011)

BOURC Taxonomic Sub-committee – 6th report
Ibis 152: 180-186 (January 2010)

BOURC Taxonomic Sub-committee – 5th report
Ibis 150: 833-835 (October 2008)

BOURC Taxonomic Sub-committee - 4th report
Ibis 149: 853-857 (October 2007)

BOURC Taxonomic Sub-committee - 3rd report
Ibis 147: 821-826 (October 2005)

BOURC Taxonomic Sub-committee - 2nd report
Ibis 146: 153-157 (January 2004)

BOURC Taxonomic Sub-committee - 1st report
Ibis 144: 707-710 (October 2002)

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