The White House Subcommittee on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics has
identified systematics as a research priority that is fundamental to ecosystem
management and biodiversity conservation. This primary need identified
by the Subcommittee requires improvements in the organization of, and
access to, standardized nomenclature. ITIS (originally referred to as
the Interagency Taxonomic Information System) was designed to
fulfill these requirements. In the future, the ITIS will provide taxonomic
data and a directory of taxonomic expertise that will support the system.
The ITIS is the result of a partnership of federal
agencies formed to satisfy their mutual needs for scientifically credible
taxonomic information. Since its inception, ITIS has gained valuable new
partners and undergone a name change; ITIS now stands for the Integrated
Taxonomic Information System.
The goal is to create an easily accessible database with reliable information
on species names and their hierarchical classification. The database will
be reviewed periodically to ensure high quality with valid classifications,
revisions, and additions of newly described species. The ITIS includes
documented taxonomic information of flora and fauna from both aquatic
and terrestrial habitats.
The original ITIS partners include:
- Department of Commerce
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
- Department of Interior (DOI)
- Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
- Department of Agriculture (USDA)
- Agriculture Research Service (ARS)
- Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)
- Smithsonian Institution
- National Museum of Natural History (NMNH)
These agencies signed a Memorandum of Understanding
and have formed a Steering Committee that directs two technical work groups
- the Database Work Group (DWG) and the Taxonomy Work Group (TWG). The
DWG is responsible for the database design and overseeing development
of the system to meet the requirements of the ITIS partners. The TWG is
responsible for the quality and integrity of the database information.
In addition to the database, the working groups have created "Taxonomic
Workbench" software designed for easy entry and manipulation
of taxonomic data.
Primary objectives of the TWG include the review of data prior to incorporation
into the ITIS and the establishment of a process for periodic peer review
to ensure data quality. The TWG has evaluated the taxonomic information
priorities of the agencies and is locating data sources for the highest
priority groups. Efforts to gather data are helping to identify gaps in
taxonomic coverage in both scientific expertise and available information.
The TWG hopes to promote collaboration among,
and provide a point of focus for, taxonomists, scientific institutions,
and taxonomic information users.
For each scientific name, ITIS will include the authority (author and
date), taxonomic rank, associated synonyms and vernacular names where
available, a unique taxonomic serial number, data source information (publications,
experts, etc.) and data quality indicators.
Expert reviews and changes to taxonomic information in the database will
be tracked. Geographic coverage will be worldwide with initial emphasis
on North American taxa. The TWG is coordinating its efforts with several
national and international biodiversity programs.
ITIS will be a significant contribution to the scientific infrastructure
that is fundamental to the description, conservation, and management of
the nation's biodiversity. Use of the ITIS and the taxonomic serial numbers
will facilitate sharing of biological information among researchers and
cooperating agencies by providing a common framework for taxonomic data.
Agencies that typically cannot afford to maintain taxonomic data will
have access to high quality taxonomic information through ITIS. This project
allows the coordination of efforts among federal agencies, thereby increasing
productivity and saving resources.
Status reports on ITIS system development may be found in the What's
New section. You can also contact Gerald Guala, Ph.D., Director,
Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS) at
U.S. Geological Survey, 12201 Sunrise Valley Drive, MS 302, Reston, VA 20192 or via email at