Six questions answered about the GBIF Backbone Taxomomy - GBIF Data Blog

This past week our informatics team has been updating the Backbone taxonomy on This is a fairly disruptive process which sometimes involves massive taxonomic changes but DON’T PANIC.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Nice job, congratulations!! And a really good explanation of how the GBIF Backbone is made.
But, I have a question…How is it determined that a name is the “most trusted”? Because if that is the condition to be accepted / valid and not a synonymous name, I think we could use some more information on how to get it to be “trusted”. Not all countries follow the same classifications and many times, we (nodes) must explain to taxonomists, who review the data and corroborate the names, why the names appear as synonyms when they indicated them as accepted / valid names.

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That’s a good question actually! Whether a name is trusted depends on its source.
As mentioned in the post, the checklists used to generate the backbone are ordered by priority.

A name coming from a checklist at the top of the ranked list will be more trusted than a name from a checklist at the bottom of that list.

So to get a name to be “trusted”, there are three possible solutions:

  • Work with the authoritative checklists to include the name directly in the source,
  • If an authoritative checklist is missing altogether, get it published on GBIF and notify us,
  • We can also prioritize smaller, higher quality lists for certain groups (please contact us if you are aware of such lists).

I hope this helps!

Very interesting post. Helped me understand the backbone better. My main take away is that GBIF gets many names and not always these names fit some large accepted taxonomy, but we need to organize them somehow!

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There is a 7th question not answered in this post, which is “Why does GBIF replace the provided taxon name with a name from the backbone when it cannot find a match?” By “replace” I mean literally remove the provided name in the processed dataset and put a backbone name in its place.

This practice was criticised in two 2018 papers:

Alternatives to GBIF’s current practice were suggested in these papers. GBIF needs to organise names somehow, of course, but there is no need to force a single synthetic taxonomy in every GBIF record.