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_EEB 5347: Principles and Methods of Systematic Biology — Search Essentials for Biosis Citation Index

Link to the Biosis Citation Database

Taxonomic Searching in Biosis Citation Index

Biosis Citation Index is the broadest database available for biological literature. Coverage in Biosis goes back to 1969.  

Biosis has a number of fields within which you can search, available in the drop down menu to the right of the search entry box. The fields of interest for taxonomic searching are taxonomic data, literature type and taxa notes. 

  • The Taxonomic data field - use this field for a Genus species search or other Latin systematic name searche, or for a common name search. This field:
    • Allows keyword searching, which searches the Super Taxa field (described below), the Taxa Notes field (described below), the Organism Name field (names of organisms from authors in their documents), the Varient Name field (includes varient names for an organism from collected spelling or another common or species name), and the Details field (includes additional information.) You will see these fields in a record as a chart of taxonomic data.
    • The Super Taxa hierarchy provides high-level organism names within a provided hierarchy. Using the index, the searcher may add a selected term to a search, see a term within the hierarchy or see notes about the term, which also references related terms. 
    • The "List" option offers broad organismal categories, another option for searching broadly or extensively.
  • The Literature type field offers options for searching by the nomenclator (namer), and also by taxonomic keys and taxonomic reviews. Type in your term and then select the type of literature from the drop down menu. Keys and reviews are described further below.
  • The Taxa Notes field is an alphabetic listing of broad common names for organisms. It searches for common names used by authors in their documents. Search this field specifically, or it is automatically included when you search keyword terms in the Taxonomic Data field.

Searching for New Species (or new genus, etc.)

Do a keyword search in the topic field or in the taxonomic data field for your term (new species, new genus, new family, etc.)  The list of recognized new taxon terms are:

new class
new combinatinon
new familiy
new form
new genus
new name
new order
new phylum
new race
new rank
new record
new section
new species
new status
new subgenus
new subspecies
new subtribe
new tribe
new variety

Searching Strategies

Use Boolean operators: AND, OR, NOT   

Think of synonyms for your terms and use OR between them

Use AND between concepts

Use wildcard searching - * and $ and ?
           * will add 0+ letters before, after or within a word; example: microb* will find microbe, microbes, microbiology and microbiological
           $ will find 0 or 1 character within or after a word; example:  behavio$r will find behavior or behaviour
           ? will find 1 character within or after a women; example: wom?n will find woman or women

Use adjacency searching - NEAR finds words within 15 words of each other or you can specify a number of words: climate NEAR/3 change will find the world climate within 3 words of the word change.

  • When the word near occurs in a search in a different context, always put it in quotes, for example: Comparison of charged nanoparticle concentrations "near" busy roads.  
  • If using a phrase in a NEAR search put the phrase within quotes, for example hurricane NEAR "climate change".  

Taxonomic Literature

Biosis also contains taxonomic keys and taxonomic reviews. A key is used to place an unknown organism into the proper classification. A review is an overview of the taxonomic history of an organism group. To search for either, put the phrase into a search box and click on the Literature Type field in the drop-down menu on the right of the box. 1993+


Biosis goes back to 1969. Prior to that use the index Biological Abstracts in print (Level A of the Library, QH301 .B37) or if you have a zoological topic use the Zoological Record online database which goes back to 1864.

When searching by broader taxonomic subdivisions, try several levels, not just one, i.e. search for family as well as genus and species.