Sat Mar 25 06:35:03 CST 1995

Dear colleagues,

The recent posting in Science my Michale Ashburner of the University of
Cambridge goes far beyond suggesting that we will have a complete
database of all living organisms by the Year 2000, it also states
[this database includes]" not only taxonomic data, but also
morphological, ecological, biogeographical, and biological data.  A
complete census of the living organisms in selected habitats will be

The statement is so totally preposterous, it defies comment.

In my own field of polychaete taxonomy, there are perhaps 16-18 thousand
known species, depending how you count and tabulate.  The rate of
species descriptions are steady, but there are not enough world class
systematists to deal with the backlog of new species currently residing
on museum shelves.  The large-scale continental shelf and slope surveys
conducted by the U.S. Department of the Interior since the middle 1970's
have yielded huge collections that have flooded the NMNH and other
institutions; very few of the newly discovered polychaetes (and other
invertebrates) have been described.  I can tabulate at least 700 new
species of polychaetes on my own shelves and since I make a living doing
things other than taxonomy, the final description of many these
species and others will of necessity await future generations.  I expect
to live another five years, but that is hardly sufficient time to deal
with what I have around (assuming I could hire a team of apprentices),
not to mention what else is coming in steadily from new collections.
Problem is, the more new taxa you encounter, the more review and
revision of earlier work is required, so the process is slow.

I doubt we will ever achieve the "complete census."

Jim Blake
89 Water Street
Woods Hole, MA 02543
(jablake at

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