COVID19-TAF - Communities Taking Action

A community-rooted initiative raised jointly by CETAF and DiSSCo


We are globally facing an unprecedented critical situation derived from the virus spread causing COVID-19 that is putting our lives at risk at a scale and virulence never encountered before in modern times. This health crisis requires a collective and immediate response from governments and citizens, researchers and professionals in finding prompt solutions.

The community of scientists linked to natural sciences collections represent a strong community that has created over decades a powerful knowledge-base that can be instrumental to understand the origin and causes of zoonotic infectious diseases as well as the processes and mechanisms that should be put in place to complement the efforts made in other disciplines, as biomedical sciences. Researchers from collections-linked organizations from all over the world have joined forces around the COVID-19 TaF and are willing to contribute to give a scientific-led response to the pandemic with a two-folded objective: 

  1. To identify the areas and topics to which we can contribute as to find the treatments, drugs and vaccines necessary faster and more effectively; and

  2. to anticipate and prevent the occurrence and propagation of a health crisis as the one our world is currently facing caused by SARS-CoV-2


The undertaken action plan covers 4 areas of expertise identified during the first break out sessions (3 and 10 April 2020): several activities, effective in addressing aims of each area of interest have been identified and established to be run over a short period of time. These activities will aim to deliver tangible outcomes and will be underpinned by a dedicated work plan:

1. Post-COVID prioritisation of research foci on animal virus carriers

The core group is working on:

a) fixing the initial set of scientific questions to be widely shared; 

b) setting the initial survey for finding the prioritized questions;

c) establish a methodology for analysis;

and d) enlarging the group with complementary insights (as of those from e.g. social sciences).

Foreseen timeline fixes a 3-4 weeks period to collate responses and collate topics, and a later 2-weeks period for analysis and first draft of final manuscript. Working on the scope of the survey and the score method will be instrumental for obtaining results of high quality and reliable content.

2. Develop guidelines for the preservation of viral evidence in deposited biological specimens and samples

The scope is equally wide and diverse so the group wishes to focus on the type of material to be preserved (also of historical type); the storage methods; and the linkages with literature. The guidelines may also need to be tailored as to accommodate different audiences’ needs (from field biologists, curators and collection holders, or biomedical scientists). The importance of biological vouchers will be underlined also as a tracking supporting reference for future studies where tracking of host species together with hosted virus may become pivotal for further research. Several political and social aspects might need to be taken into consideration, since import/export of biological material has become an important issue to handle.

3. Develop a biodiversity-related knowledge hub on COVID-19

The group detected the role of aggregators and the importance to differentiate between latests dated information and the further contributions to update it. By focusing on certain group (of bats) and building a case on harvesting literature around that group, information and interactions, distribution and further linkages (e.g. with other species), the group aims to create a pilot activity to demonstrate how access to data could prove to be instrumental for biomedical research (finding of new treatments, novel advances, etc.). Such a pilot could be used as a starting point to enlarge this first exercise. Interconnection between aggregators (as GBIF), repositories (stable and persistent as ZENODO), taxonomic names (as from CoL) with other resources (as GLoBi) may become a powerful mechanism.

4. Improve metadata registering practices on genetic material deposition  

Closely related to the above, this group will work on the concept of “extended” species where sequences, vouchers and samples (also in literature) could be linked. To that end, inclusion of certain data should be made mandatory when collection information into collections datasets, equally for genebanks. The group recognizes that this is a long term endeavour that may take much more time. Even more critical is the transition from those identified Best Practices into adopted policies, either at institutional level or beyond, within the community of practice.


Organizations, research infrastructures, service providers have already joined this initiative and work collaboratively with an increasing number of involved scientists taking action and providing the data, information and expertise that other (multidisciplinary) teams may need from us. 

Organized by CETAF and co-facilitated by DiSSCo




Participants to this Taskforce come from different fields but all linked to the environmental domain, from taxonomy to ecology, bioinformatics and knowledge publication and extraction. This list will be updated as new members join the Task Force.

Open the list here.



Initiatives in the field:

Other surveys:

Other initiatives and resources will be added to this initial list.


The CETAF-DiSSCo Task Force presented the outcomes achieved after 3 months of its creation during a virtual public event on July 17 2020. Coming from all over the world, these experts shared the results of their collective activities that jointly aimed to identify how our community could better contribute to prevent pandemic outbreaks by sharing their respective scientific knowledge. 

The event was introduced by Dr Pamela Soltis (curator of Molecular Systematics & Evolutionary Genetics at the Florida Museum of Natural History and Director for Research Activities for iDigBio). Her intervention was followed by the presentations of the 4 Activity leaders. To conclude the event, room was given for the rest of participants to engage with the COVID-19 Task Force volunteers.