Thursday, August 15, 2013

BioNames update - taxonomic name timelines

One feature I've always wanted to have in BioNames is a timeline of taxonomic names. ION has one (see here), but I wanted a way to go from the timeline to the actual publications. In other words, if, say, there were approximately 99 bird names published in 2012, I want to see the papers that published those names.

As an example, you can go to and get a timeline of bird names:
The data is incomplete (I'm still processing and indexing the data) but you get a sense that the number of bird names being coined each year is fairly small. Actually, I was surprised it was as high as it is, but remember these are not the number of new species described each year. It does include new species (many of them are fossils in this case), but also higher taxa and nomenclatural changes (e.g., replacement names for homonyms, etc.). The timeline also only shows names that are "new" (i.e., not the new combinations that result when a species gets moved to a new genus), and only those names linked to a publication.

The timeline graphs are clickable, so you can click on a year and get a list of publications for that taxon for that year (sometimes this can take a while). You can click on the publications for more details, sometimes you can also view the full text.

The timeline page also shows a treemap of the taxonomic groups recognised by the ION database (the example below is for birds):


Browsing different taxa shows some interesting patterns. For example, here are snakes:

That huge spike on the far right? That's due to hundreds of names published by "Snake Man" Raymond Hoser (his activities have been the subject of an impassioned debate on TAXACOM).

The timeline for insects shows a major dip in new names that corresponds to the Second World War, followed by a big jump in the late sixties.


Smaller taxa, such as Teuthida, show a more episodic pattern where a single monograph can result in a prominent spike in the numbers in any one year (again, you can click on the spikes to see the actual publications):


Still a daunting mount of cleaning and linking to do, but it's one more way to explore the efforts of generations of taxonomists to discover and make sense of the diversity of animal life on the planet.