BioCode: Bionomenclature Across All Organism Groups

A Current Programme of the International Union of Biological Sciences (IUBS)
Leaders: Regine Jahn, David L Hawksworth, Ellinor Michel, Ralf Reski


A common concern of today is that numerous organisms are going extinct before they have even been described. Two of the reasons are that there are too few taxonomists, and that the procedures involved in formally naming new species are slow. For some groups of species - if not typical animals or plants - it is often difficult to know which of the current Codes to apply, and different authors take divergent views. Molecular biology (leading to the recognition of OTUs [Operational Taxonomic Units]) and online taxonomic information management systems (“cybertaxonomy”)  offer ways to accelerate the recognition and description of new species, and these technologies need to be incorporated into the Codes in order to meet the future needs of the scientific community.
In addition, there is a need for harmonization of the Codes where possible, and work towards a single BioCode that can apply to all kinds of organisms from some date in the future. The BioCode will help avoid further fragmentation of the scientific communities working with different organisms using a potentially ever increasing numbers of special Codes, or different names for the same taxon (i.e. ambiregnal taxa for many algae groups).
The modernization of the Draft BioCode (last revised in 1997) is necessary to allow for developments in the electronic and molecular phylogenetic era, and promises to provide a system of internationally agreed rules that will facilitate the more efficient working of taxonomists and so contribute to an acceleration in the description of the Earth's biodiversity. The feasibility of the provisions also accommodating the PhyloCode will also be examined in depth.

The new revision of the BioCode produced under this programme will be submitted to the organizations responsible for the current five Codes for consideration, and also to a subsequent General Assembly of IUBS, and the separate IUMS Congresses, for endorsement.


The IUBS/IUMS International Committee on Bionomenclature (ICB) pioneered actions towards this end, particularly with respect to possible harmonization of terms, and the production of a Draft BioCode  -- the last revision of which was prepared in 1997. While some small changes towards harmonization of terms and practices have already been made in several of the five current Codes, the BioCode itself has not been further refined for possible adoption when prerequisite conditions have been met. Recently, in 2007 and 2009, the need for the BioCode has been re-iterated, spurred by issues such as electronic publication, the harmonization of names across all organisms groups, and the Registration of new scientific names, etc. In addition, a revised and expanded Glossary including over 2,100 terms used in biological nomenclature, derived from the draft produced by the ICB and published by IUBS in 1994, has now been made available free online through the GBIF website.

Detailed triennial programme

BioCode working group comprising the 4 leaders plus 8 main drivers from the ICB was convened in Berlin (organizer Regine Jahn) to:
(1) review the Draft BioCode (1997) and consider what and how elements in that should be revised, and how that work should be undertaken to achieve a new Draft with a target date of the end of 2010; 
(2) consider the conditions pre-requisite for its adoption for the future naming of taxa in particular; and
(3) elaborate recommendations to be put forward for debate by the wider biological community at the International Congress on Systematic and Evolutionary Biology (ICSEB) which will take place on 21 27 February 2011 in Berlin.
2011 (revised)
Three meetings are envisaged:
(1) A Symposium at ICSEB in February 2011 to discuss the new Draft BioCode prepared following the 2010 working group meeting and its relationship to other Codes (including the PhyloCode), and cybertaxonomy and other initiatives, and consider any recommendations or report to be made to the upcoming International Botanical Congress (ICB) to be held in Melbourne in August 2011. At the Berlin Congress a resolution was passed (IOSEB VII resolution as pdf).
(2) At the Nomenclatural Session at the International Botanical Congress in Melbourne in August 2011 (ICB) the new Draft BioCode is to be presented to the botanical community with feed-backs from ICSEB and ICB in order to obtain their views.
(3) A short meeting in London in December 2011 to discuss progress of the Draft BioCode in the light of discussions at the ICSEB and IBC.
2012 (revised)
Three meetings are envisaged:
(1) A workshop in Berlin in April 2011 to revise the Draft BioCode in the light of discussions and inputs from the five mandated international Codes; the meeting to include the full ICB and representatives of pertinent key web-based nomenclatural indexing initiatives. Prepare possible resolutions for consideration by the IUBS General Assembly when it meets in China in July and also by the next IUMS Congresses.
(2) A session concerning progress in bionomenclature at the General Assembly in Suzhou, China, 5-9th July 2012.
(3) A Nomenclatural Session at the International Zoological Congress in Haifa in 2012, to consider the new Draft BioCode, and present feed-back from ICSEB and ICB to the zoological community and obtain their views. Also, to report to any meeting of the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature convened during that Congress.

(1) A revised BioCode  taking account of new electronic and molecular phylogenetic technologies developed since 1997, requirements of international electronic nomenclatural information systems (e.g. Catalogue of Life, GBIF), and based on discussions with and inputs from a wide range of biologists working in different organismal groups.
(2) A set of conditions necessary for the BioCode to become operative.
(3) Increased liaison between the organizations concerned with the different Codes, in both IUBS and IUMS.
(4) Increased awareness amongst organismal biologists in general of changing requirements in biological nomenclature, and amongst taxonomists of how they will contribute to improved efficiency in their working practices.