Currently a biodiversity crisis is underway, which many have termed the sixth extinction. E.O. Wilson in 1993 suggested 30,000 species extinctions occur per year, roughly three per hour. How many species are there on earth? That is a tough nut to crack. An extremely conservative estimate would be 3-5 million, but it’s likely closer to 30-50 million. In the deep sea there may be as many as 10 million.
The other side of this crisis reflects our lack of knowledge of biodiversity on earth. Less than 2 million species have been described. By E.O.’s estimate we are losing species faster than they are being described. Alarmingly, many invertebrate phyla are now wholly ignored . Other groups lack taxonomic specialists to both revise taxonomy and to describe new species. The downfall in the number of taxonomist reflects both a lack of funding and, potentially more important, a lack of positions. Moreover, funding for taxonomic databases is lax and for multiple reasons several online initiatives have been largely unsuccessful.
Kevin over at his other blog points to another issue that bolstering the crisis.
Taxonomy has historically been relegated to the back alleys of the publishing world. In-house museum journals, obscure regional or specialty publications and even more obscure foreign language academy reports have hidden many species descriptions, revisions and monographs from the eyes of interested biologists.
The solution…Open Access Taxonomic Journals. The barrier…
“Works produced after 1999 by a method that does not employ printing on paper. For a work produced after 1999 by a method other than printing on paper to be accepted as published within the meaning of the Code, it must contain a statement that copies (in the form in which it is published) have been deposited in at least 5 major publicly accessible libraries which are identified by name in the work itself.”
Well-written and insightful by a burgeoning taxonomist, Kevin’s post is well worth the read.