Friday, 20 September 2013

Should we speed up taxonomy?

The extreme pressures facing biodiversity on our planet are well documented, and our chance to discover new species is likely diminishing on a daily basis. Should we speed up taxonomy to increase description rates?

It has recently been reported1, that the average time between discovery and formal scientific description of a new species is 21 years. The same report also mentions an example where the time line was significantly longer, over 100 years. I think most would agree that even 21 years seems like a long time. One thing is certain, we can not afford to loose any of the quality offered by traditional taxonomy, the issue remains can and should we speed up the process?

Seemingly the technology may just exist to speed up processes, and even potentially increase the quality at the same time. A recent article2 demonstrates the use of scanning electron microscope (SEM), used extensively in other scientific disciplines. Specifically it is the potential usefulness of the detailed SEM image, which can be rotated and potentially examined in 360o from one plane, providing scientists with exact images of the original specimen, and unlimited angles of view. Furthermore, the required technology to utilise SEM images is widely accessible1

Is it desirable to imagine a scientist finding, collecting data (including DNA) and SEM imaging new species in the field, then instantly sharing the images with project partners and/or the public to help identify and describe? Could such imaging techniques be the first step to speeding up taxonomy? Would computer aided recognition of images help identification?


cuatrok77 Flickr account - CC by 2.0