Why there may be discrepancies in the assessment of scientific names between the Catalog of Fishes and FishBase

By Nicolas Bailly, FishBase Project Manager
WorldFish Center – FishBase Consortium – FishBase Information and Research Group, Inc. (FIN)
Aquatic Biodiversity Informatics Office, Philippines

Fish-enthusiasts may be confused when they sometimes find contradictory information in the Catalog of Fishes (CofF) and FishBase (FB).  Independence and different purposes of both initiatives explain this situation, which I discuss below in more details from both theoretical and practical points of view.  In conclusion, I provide some numbers on known discrepancies and their low relative magnitude over the total number of valid species.  Finally, I suggest in the last paragraph why and how discrepancies can be reported to FB.

Before going in deeper details, the FishBase Consortium recognizes:

The discussion below contains neither critique nor judgment on the quality of both products or on the immense work achieved.  The purpose of the text is to give some background information and to clarify:

So why may CofF and FB deliver contradictory information?

Independent initiatives

The first explanation is that CofF and FB are independent initiatives.

Bill Eschmeyer started CofF more than 25 years ago (*) when he was working in the California Academy of Sciences that supported and still supports the development and the maintainance of the database and the web site there.  He is still continuing to update, complete and correct data in almost real time with the help of several teams and many colleagues around the world (see CofF introduction).

Daniel Pauly and Rainer Froese started FB 20 years ago in ICLARM now called WorldFish Center.  Today a team of about 20 persons in various countries (mainly in the Philippines) maintains the information system with the much appreciated help of many collaborators as well, often the same as for CofF with respect to taxonomy, under the management of the FishBase Consortium (nine institutions around the world).  But note that the FB team staffs try to synchronize the information with CofF as much as they can.

CofF and FB collaborated closely on several projects in the past 15 years, up to the inclusion of webpages with CofF content within the FB website: with the improved web-presence of CofF, these pages were not needed anymore and were deleted early 2008.  This may have created the confusion that CofF and FB were completely integrated, which is not the case.

Different purposes

The second explanation is that the nature and the purposes of the information systems are different.

CofF is both a nomenclator (listing all the new published fish names and assessing their availability and validity in the framework of the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature) and an authoritative taxonomic list (giving the current status of species validity and its current accepted name).  A team did examine nearly all original descriptions, xeroxed many of them, proofed them, visited and copied type records from nearly all major museums resulting in a world type catalog that is invaluable for initiative like Fish-BoL), etc., settling publication dates and name spellings with much research.

FishBase, first and foremost on the basis of the taxonomic and nomenclatural backbone assembled by CofF, gives a wider range of information on current valid species.  It is not primarily a taxonomic database, but nonetheless a database on fish systematics (as far as it is recognized that taxonomy and systematics are different, the latter using the former as a structuring and indexing backbone for all biological, ecological, etc. information on species).

Both databases are Biodiversity Information Systems (BIS) and Global Species Databases (GSD).


Low relative magnitude of discrepancies

One important fact is that in both databases, there are less than 5% of errors.  For sure, multiplied by 31,000 or so, it still makes ca. 1,500 records, and no user is happy finding errors.  However, note that there is already a complete correspondence on species validity, their names, the author and the year of publication for 94% of valid names between CofF and FB.  Different spellings (gender agreement, author names) and years of publication account for 1%, and different combinations for an additional 2.5%.  So all in all there is only 2.5% difference in terms of species validity, not including the delays for encoding new species in FB compared to CofF (between 300 and 500 per year in the past 12 years).

How to report discrepancies to FB

We realize that the fact that CofF and FB provide consistent information on species validity and current accepted names is an important issue from a user perspective.  Please bear with us, and help us to maintain this consistency.  If you find discrepancies, we suggest that you warn FB first, as the probability is a bit higher that FB did not include an update yet, so CofF specialists are not mobilized for an erroneous reason.  Please use the “Comments and corrections” page from the Species summary page concerned (Top menu “Feedback”, or bottom of the page).  We will make a priority to check and revise the issue for the next update (now done every two months).  Moreover, we will report to CofF if we find that it is more likely that the revision is to be made in CofF.

Many thanks to Rainer Froese (IFM-GEOMAR), Emily Capuli (WorldFish Center), Gert Boden (MRAC) for reviewing and improving the text, and to Bill Eschmeyer (formerly CAS) for historical corrections on version 1.

Web published version no. 2 (May 6th, 2010)

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