Potential caveats

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A scientific name is not enough - why?

Scientific names are widely used to access biodiversity information. They provide a standardised way to connect all the information that pertains to, e.g., a certain species. So data from many different sources can be brought together for a certain species, for example, information on its uses (e.g. medicinal, cultural, construction), its morphology (appearance and form), its geographical distribution, its conservation status (e.g. threatened by extinction), and threats it poses (poison, invasive species, pests). Such data have been collected by humans for millennia, and put into persistent records for centuries, since the mid-17hundreds connected to scientific names following internationally agreed rules.

However, there is an inherent problem to scientific names: they are a pointer to a concept of a taxon, e.g. of a species. These concepts are in essence scientific hypotheses about the descendance of the species, and with new scientific research on the evolution of species, its circumscription may change. This means that taxa that have been considered separate species in the past may turn out to belong to the same species, thus some of the names become synonyms. And vice versa: careful investigation may reveal that what has been considered a single species in the past in reality represents more than one species.

On a global level, every synonym should point to the accepted name of a taxon. However, since names are not necessarily changed when the circumscription of the taxon changes, in some cases taxonomic expertise is needed to decide if data from different sources do really refer to the same currently accepted species. Global taxonomic information systems should attempt to monitor such changes and be able to alert users when relevant changes have been detected.

Further reading on the stability of taxonomies