In his post Taxonomy - crisis, what crisis? Rod Page reported on a new publication by Lucas et al (in press) which contains some really provocative findings:
- There is no decrease in the number of taxonomists, yet no 'taxonomy crisis'
- Instead there is an increase of taxonomists since 1900
- But there is a decline in the number of species descriptions per taxonomist
describing Earth's remaining species may take as long as 1,200 years and would require 303,000 taxonomists at an approximated cost of US$364 billion. With extinction rates now exceeding natural background rates by a factor of 100 to 1,000, our results also suggest that this slow advance in the description of species will lead to species becoming extinct before we know they even existed.
So what happened, are taxonomists getting lazy nowadays?
Lucas et. al. (in press) propose a different explanation:
[...] the currently decreasing numbers of species described per taxonomist over the past 50 years probably represents the effect of a declining pool of missing species.Wait a moment.. are there too little species left to discover, thus the estimates above completely wrong?
Interesting, but the members of the TAXACOM list propose some other explanations, such as: 'we know hundreds of new species but publishing this is not funded anymore' etc.
Hard times for taxonomists...
Lucas N. Joppa, David L. Roberts, Stuart L. Pimm The population ecology and social behaviour of taxonomists Trends in Ecology & Evolution doi:10.1016/j.tree.2011.07.010
Camilo Mora, Derek P. Tittensor, Sina Adl, Alastair G. B. Simpson, Boris Worm. How Many Species Are There on Earth and in the Ocean?. PLoS Biol 9(8): e1001127. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001127