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The most important catalogue in human history? Catalogue of Life 2010 launched at UN Biodiversity Meeting in Nairobi

19 May 2010

The world’s most valuable asset, on which we all depend, is silently slipping through our fingers – it is the world’s astounding biodiversity, in some cases lost before it is even discovered.

A catalogue detailing 1.25 million species of organisms across the world is releasing a special edition to mark the International Year of Biodiversity.

Surprisingly, scientists understand better the number of stars there are in the galaxy than species on Earth. Estimates of the total vary (2 - 100 million), but it is thought just 1.9 million species have been discovered so far.

The Catalogue of Life Special 2010 Edition is the most complete and integrated species list known to man. It has 77 databases feeding into an inventory of 1,257,735 species of plants, animals, fungi and micro-organisms associated with 2,369,683 names.

The Catalogue of Life’s DVD-Rom will be launched at the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) meeting in Nairobi, Kenya on Wednesday, 19 May. The Catalogue is recognised by the CBD and its latest developments are funded by the EC e-Infrastructures Programme (4D4Life project). The programme involves 82 partner organisations across the globe and is led by Professor Frank Bisby of the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Reading, UK.

This new edition encompasses more groups of organisms and has enhanced user functions and display features, allowing for easier access and searching of species names, relationships and additional information.

The catalogue is a free electronic resource used by thousands of researchers, professionals, projects and portals worldwide and its website ( receives 40 million hits a year.

Professor Bisby said: “The Catalogue of Life programme is vital to building the world's biodiversity knowledge systems of the future and the Special 2010 Edition is a celebration of the diversity of life on Earth. Expert validation of recorded species will not only boost our understanding of the living world today but also allow governments, agencies and businesses to improve their future modelling to benefit our natural resources, and to document biotic resources world-wide.

“Through the Convention, 193 countries attempt to manage the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits from the use of genetic resources. This work is facilitated by a taxonomic framework cataloguing all known species”.

Incredible case studies

 Ghost orchid, Dendrophylax lindenii There are over 26,801 known species of orchid in the world.  The Catalogue of Life names every one. Orchids can be found globally, even above the Arctic Circle. Vanilla is an orchid. Orchids have developed highly specialised pollination systems and thus the chances of being pollinated are often scarce. Many orchids are rare and threatened – like this stunning . (Sector supplied and maintained in the Catalogue by Royal Botanical Gardens Kew)
 Ichneumon There are an astonishing 42,372 known species of Ichneumonoidea wasps in one of the largest databases in the Catalogue of Life. They are solitary insects, closely related to ants and bees.  Various  are used successfully as biological control agents in controlling pests such as flies or beetles. (Sector supplied and maintained in the Catalogue by the Taxapad system of Dicky Yu)
 Hummingbird, Mellisuga helenae There are 21,397 known bird species in the Catalogue of Life. This includes the smallest bird in the world, the male bee ), which is about the size of a large bee.  The female bee hummingbird builds a nest that is only about 1 inch in diameter. In this nest she lays her eggs, which are smaller than coffee beans. (Sector supplied and maintained in the Catalogue by ITIS)
 Dragonfly The catalogue holds 5,747 species of Odonata – dragonflies and damselflies.  From fossil records we know that these amazing insects were flying some 300 million years ago, before even dinosaurs roamed the earth. The prehistoric "giant dragonflies” had wingspans of more than 75 cm (2.5 ft). (Sector supplied and maintained in the Catalogue by Jan van Tol at NCB Naturalis, Leiden)


For more information please contact Rona Cheeseman, University of Reading press officer, on +44 (0)118 378 7388 or email .

Notes to editor

The Catalogue of Life:

  • Co-ordinated by the international Species 2000 organisation based at University of Reading, UK and the Integrated Taxonomic information System (ITIS) based in Washington DC. It is widely used by major global and regional biodiversity portals. The intergovernmental Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) and the Encyclopedia of Life (EoL) rely on it as the bedrock of their taxonomic information.
  •  More information at and

The 4D4Life Project:

  • The Catalogue of Life has started a second phase of development with the 4D4Life Project, funded by the European Union. This will install a new array of public services, design new service-based electronic architecture and extend the reach of the programme to link with Regional Centres in China, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, North America and Europe, making important progress towards completing the Catalogue of Life at the world scale.
  • More information at

University of Reading:

  • One of the UK’s top research-intensive universities, ranked in the top 20 UK higher education institutions in securing research council grants, and as one of the top 200 universities in the world (THE-QS World Rankings 2009).
  • More information at

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