Species Checklist: The Core Data in Biodiversity Conservation

What’s a species checklist?

A species checklist is a simple inventory of species that can be found in a specific geographical area given a specific time. It is typical for the species to be listed according to scientific names or, common or vernacular names. However, a species checklist’s thoroughness depends on many factors, such as the objectives of why a checklist is needed, the availability of good references in species identification and the skill level in species recognition.

The most popular species checklists are usually those with alarming conservation status. Some of these are CITES’ list of the most endangered species of wild fauna and flora and IUCN Red List of threatened species. Species checklists are necessary information on ecological studies, biodiversity assessments, conservation reports, and, other documentations and analyses relating to biodiversity.

Where is it published?

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A monograph of Australian land shell in the 1800’s | CC Image courtesy of Biodiversity Heritage Library

Species checklists are published in almost every printed media such as scientific journals, monographs, academic textbooks, academic research papers, hobbyist guidebooks, encyclopedias, biodiversity reports from government institutions, non-government organizations and stakeholders’ foundations. Today in the information age, it’s much easier and quicker to publish species checklists through various digital platforms. Several global initiatives have been working on encouraging scientists, biologists and data managers, to contribute towards creating a global list of species in respective taxa groups. For example, FishBase compiles a list of all fishes, World Register of Marine Organisms  catalogues a list of all marine life forms, AntBase lists all ant species and World Bird List integrates a list of all bird species.

If you have a raw species checklist that you want to publish online using the existing open access databases or digital publishers, it is best that you first contact the data manager of that platform so you can be informed of the submission guidelines that they require. For instance, the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) instructs their contributors to use an international data exchange format called Darwin Core Archives. You may be interested to search for the right online publisher especially if you have species checklists on local and national scales. It will be a good opportunity to contribute a finer scale data that can help progress a global scale listing which aims to enrich our understanding of biodiversity.

Why are species checklists important?

Species are the core information necessary in resource management and biodiversity conservation. Species conveys a myriad of information related to habitat, environmental quality, presence of preys and predators, climate, level of anthropogenic disturbance within an area, details about other species in a symbiotic relationship, and many more.

Species data is the link to all these information. A species checklist allows biologists and managers to come up with meaningful action steps and make wise decisions to achieve biodiversity protection. The presence of species in various locations can determine the geographic range to which a conservation action must be implemented. Combining it with a temporal component, where the species presence and absence in a particular timeline is documented, can determine the right steps to habitat restoration. Species points to habitats which points to a bigger scope, such as ecosystem.

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A diagram of other related information that can be derived from species information

Some data applications of species checklists:

1. We can create species estimates by compiling existing information and showing a summary of how many species there are in a taxa group across all distribution area.

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Distribution of Mammal Species Across Orders (extant and recently extinct) | CC Image courtesy of Aranae

2. We can demonstrate the exact range of the species’ distribution. Now we know where they are exactly found in the world.

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Distribution of very rare New Zealand mollusc species | Source: Palacio MC 2008

3. If we study our species checklists with their current conservation status, we can create a priority list for conservation action among the species, and their populations in our study sites.

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Top 25 Most Endangered Primates in the World | Source: Primates in Peril, 2014-2016

4. Likewise, if we look through our species checklist with a classification of each species naturalness or invasiveness, we can demonstrate the threat status based on the presence of invasive species in our area of study. For example, the Invasive Species Specialist Group has published a checklist of invasive species with the most known serious impact on biodiversity and human activities.

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100 of the World’s Worst Invasive Species | Source: IUCN GISD

5. If we study our species checklists with the different substrate or micro-habitat on which they were found and, then compare the similarities and differences of these data in different site locations, we are able to characterize the community assemblages in a particular area. Community studies are very useful in ecology, especially in understanding community responses to various changes in the environment. Determining change and its gravity are important in stewardship of the ecosystems that are directly accessible for human use.

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A plot showing an example of species assemblages found in specific micro-habitats in coastal marine hard and soft shores | Source: A Coastal Conservation Research in 2008

These are but few of the many practical ways on how we can use species checklists to gain a more in-depth biodiversity information.

How accurate are these data?

The next important question someone may ask regarding the use of species checklists is, how accurate are these data?; especially by the ones that have open access or creative commons license. True enough, most users are concerned about the data quality of species checklists and biodiversity data available through online biodiversity databases. Also, caveats like “The publishers and creators are not responsible for any errors that may be found in the dataset.” make users more doubtful about data accuracy of these sources1. That’s why it has been proposed that data publications must also undergo quality control protocols like what is practiced in a scientific publication process. Indeed, many biodiversity databases follow this procedure to create scholar quality online publications, i.e. FishBase, AlgaeBase, CoL, etc.

As a user who wants to take advantage of this opportunity to explore the various aspects of ecology through species, by employing the enormous data available online, it is best that you also check the source database or reference on how they conduct quality controls over data submissions. This way, you can be confident as a user that the your data for analysis is valid. When you’re done with data analysis, it’s also wise to double-check the results by asking another trusted researcher to verify it and agree that your results make sense.

Hands-on Exercise:

Learn a simple process of how to extract species checklists from existing data sources, and use this available data as a head start on your biodiversity research. Read it here.

Best Practices in Preparing A Species Checklist

Publishing species checklists that are well-researched and complete with supporting information, can be very useful, especially as a reference for future conservation work. At this point, we have understood that in preparing species checklists, their distribution patterns are also known. Now, different vocabularies are needed to be introduced when working on species’ distributions on particular scales, i.e., global, regional, national, local. For example, in a country checklist of birds that lists all species, information on species endemism must also be covered. Also, description of their precise distribution, as to whether the species are indigenous or introduced/exotic must be defined. If the species are not endemics, it will be useful if they will be described instead as cosmopolitan, Asian or African, etc. More information on other best practices about species checklists can be learned through this guide.


Species checklists are necessary in evaluating the conservation status of a particular geographical area. Species or species names are the link to all other biodiversity information. We need this data to help us make wise decisions regarding sustainable use of our remaining resources, management, monitoring, focusing on areas that require more studies, and establishing priorities for biodiversity protection. The more species checklists that we can put together, in an organized and sensible fashion, the more we can know about their distribution and other ecological characteristics. We become better at recognizing biodiversity and, hopefully develop better measures for its management and protection.

Do you have species checklists in the area you live in? Why or Why not? You can create a preliminary list by the ones you know and by checking what’s available online. Find out what’s common or rare. Observe biodiversity around you. Go ahead and try! Everything you need to start is just a click away.


1 Data accuracy

Title Image Credit:

reef2059” by NOAA Photo Library used under CC BY | Desaturated from original

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