Friday, 17 May 2013

Can we beat the extinction rate to name all species?


Do we have the capability to name all the species on the planet before they go extinct?

Recent research1 argues that we can. Essentially we might have convinced ourselves unnecessarily that the barriers are too high. Take the commonly held belief that the number of taxonomists is decreasing. The research1 points to the increase in taxonomic data being published in repositories (e.g. WoRMS) as a sign that taxonomic output is in fact increasing.



Are we in the most productive taxonomic era ever? This argument seems to supported by the recent announcement that the Pensoft publication Zookeys reached its 300th issue recently. Adding over 100 issues in the last year alone.

The research1 also points to the fact that the extinction rate is poorly quantified and that the number of species is over exaggerated. Resulting in underestimation of the time available and overestimation of the number of species left.

Potential issues surrounding accurate prediction of the number of species are highlighted in research2 looking at species which have only been described once or ‘Oncers’. The research2 reports that these species are indicative of: 1) endemism; 2) being constrained to narrow niches; 3) poor practices during re-identification; and 4) original descriptions remain unknown. The research2 found that the number of species within the genus Gymmodinium was likely to be 234 and not 268 as previously thought.

One thing is for certain, technology and infrastructure, through the hard work of certain groups and researchers are playing a huge role in facilitating the effort to describe all species before they go extinct.


Sources

Photo
NASA Goddard Photo (Creative Commons Licence) - http://www.flickr.com/photos/gsfc/8569701912/in/photostream