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The International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature today amended the ICZN to allow naming of animals via electronic publication.

Today, an amendment to the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature was published in the (open access) journal ZooKeys. This is an important change as it concerns the publishing of valid names.


In zoology, names of organisms are important; you’ll probably know a few, particularly ones that I’ve been using — e.g. Ophthalmosaurus. To make sure that names are assigned to a single organism, i.e. the same name isn’t used for many different animals, the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (here referred to as ICommZN) was set up. A similar organisation exists for plants, algae and fungi (International Commission of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants). Along with this, the ICommZN developed the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN).

The ICZN sets out the rules about how animals should be named. This includes everything from how many parts in the name (one for genera, two for species), how it should look (e.g. italicised or not), how and where it should be published, how to change names, what date is used and so on. This means that a full species name should look like: Ophthalmosaurus icenicus Seeley, 1874, including the generic name (Ophthalmosaurus), specific name (icenicus), author (Seeley) and year of publication (1874).

Previously, the ICZN has required that official names be published in ‘numerous identical and durable copies’ (ICZN, article This usually required that several paper (or optical disc) copies of the article containing the name be deposited in archives worldwide. In recent years, this has been a problem for online, electronic only publications such as PLOS ONE. They have followed this by specially producing durable paper copies for deposition (see e.g. Maxwell, Fernández and Schoch (2012), p. 3, ‘Nomenclatural Acts’). The changes in the code published today (International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature 2012) have changed that.

Electronic publication

It’s probably easiest to directly quote the relevant section from the publication:

Article 8.5. Works issued and distributed electronically. To be considered published, a work issued and distributed electronically must

8.5.1. have been issued after 2011,

8.5.2. state the date of publication in the work itself, and

8.5.3. be registered in the Official Register of Zoological Nomenclature (ZooBank) (see Article 78.2.4) and contain evidence in the work itself that such registration has occurred. The entry in the Official Register of Zoological Nomenclature must give the name and Internet address of an organization other than the publisher that is intended to permanently archive the work in a manner that preserves the content and layout, and is capable of doing so. This information is not required to appear in the work itself. The entry in the Official Register of Zoological Nomenclature must give an ISBN for the work or an ISSN for the journal containing the work. The number is not required to appear in the work itself. An error in stating the evidence of registration does not make a work unavailable, provided that the work can be unambiguously associated with a record created in the Official Register of Zoological Nomenclature before the work was published (International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature 2012, pp. 3–4).

Simply put, this requires the name to have been published on or after 1 January 2012, dated and registered in the Official Register (as well as adhering to all other articles).

While most electronic only publications have used similar methods to PLOS ONE to make sure that nomenclatural acts meet the requirements of the ICZN, this has required emplacement of a procedure to ensure its validity. This change in the ICZN has removed the need for papers copies and embraced the digital age. Electronic publishing can be much easier and cheaper than physical media; you only need a single pdf to spread to the world. The apparently simple change of allowing dissemination by electronic means support for the direction of modern scientific publishing: the increase in online repositories and especially for online-only open access journals. Spreading the knowledge of science should be made easier.

I was first notified by the changes by Heinrich Mallison on his blog at Dinosaur Palaeo. Others will doubtless write about this, Mike Taylor at SV-POW has already done so. Further information can be found at the ICommZN website: *http://iczn.org.


INTERNATIONAL COMMISSION ON ZOOLOGICAL NOMENCLATURE. 2012. Amendment of Articles 8, 9, 10, 21 and 78 of the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature to expand and refine methods of publication. ZooKeys, 219, 1–10.

MAXWELL, E. E., FERNÁNDEZ, M. S. and SCHOCH, R. R. 2012. First diagnostic marine reptile remains from the Aalenian (Middle Jurassic): a new ichthyosaur from southwestern Germany. PLOS ONE, 7, e41692.

SEELEY, H. G. 1874. On the pectoral arch and fore limb of Ophthalmosaurus, a new ichthyosaurian genus from the Oxford Clay. Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society, 30, 696–707.

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