That is the common theme in marine biology. Clara Moskowitz has an article up at LiveScience describing how scientists are struggling to keep up with marine life discoveries. Here is a short snippet:
“Scientists figure there are at least 1 million species of marine organisms on Earth.
Of these, only about 230,000 are known to science now, and some of those have more than one name. To keep them all straight, 55 researchers from 17 countries are working on a new list, the ultimate tally of sea creatures great and small.
The list is about half done, the team announced today. So far, the scientists have counted 122,500 species, which puts them about halfway toward completing the inventory of known marine species by their goal of October 2010.
“Describing species without a universal register in place is like setting up a library without an index catalog,” said Philippe Bouchet, a scientist at the French National Museum of Natural History who is helping to compile the list. “
Much of the problem has to do with synonymy, a case when a species has more than one name. This happens for a variety of reasons. For instance, when a taxonomist describes and names a new species without consulting the full history of literature, two taxonomists describe the species around the same time independently, or the literature on a species is difficult to obtain or in obscure local journals. So far, the winner for most names is the “Breadcrumb Sponge”, Halichondria panicea, described as
“the marine world’s reigning champion of Latin aliases, with 56 synonyms appearing in taxonomic literature since its first description in 1766. Of no fixed address, it’s known to frequent floats, pilings, and the underside of rocks, smells like exploded gunpowder and takes on many guises.”
Cleaning up this mess is serious business. With over 250 years of species discoveries to sift through, scientists need a complete record of the literature to accomplish this task. In my opinion, much of the problem lies in obscurity of taxonomic works. Many scientists choose to publish their work in small local museum or society journals that most people wouldn’t know existed or are very difficult to get ahold of.
Open Access (OA) Taxonomy will alleviate much of this problem. The sooner we move to OA Taxonomy, the sooner we can start to keep better track of whats out there, the sooner everyone around the world with an internet connection can be on the same page.
See also the World Register of Marine Species.