Donat Agosti, in Correspondence, argues that restricted access to taxonomic information impedes many countries in their biodiversity monitoring efforts (“Biodiversity data are out of local taxonomists' reach” Nature 439, 392; 200610.1038/439392a). This problem resulted in the establishment of the Global Biodiversity Information Facility in 2001, with free online access currently to almost 90 million records (see http://www.gbif.net).
The European Commission is about to sign into existence a network of excellence to create the European Distributed Institute of Taxonomy (EDIT; see http://www.mnhn.fr/edit), an initiative of the Consortium of European Taxonomic Facilities (http://www.cetaf.org).
A component within EDIT will provide a freely accessible web portal to integrate taxonomic revisions on the fly, allowing users to build a resource tailored to their needs. If data are properly structured, then identification keys, distributional checklists and other ready-to-use products can be built on demand.
There is, however, a potentially negative impact on the career development of taxonomists. Currently, performance is measured using publication metrics that rely on the copyright restrictions to which Agosti refers. EDIT is mandated to examine those restrictions and to relieve them where possible, both through abstracting information from copyrighted publications for summary access (without copyright infringement) and by developing new metrics by which institutions can assess taxonomists' productivity.
Readers specifically interested in making taxonomic material openly available are invited to contact the coordinator (D.R.) of this particular component of EDIT.