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John Noyes jsn at NHM.AC.UK
Mon Mar 12 15:12:57 CST 2001

Dear Taxacomers,

I have been somewhat intrigued by the recent discussions on ATBI's (and
ABTI's). As I am heavily involved in one of the largest ATBI's (Costa Rica)
currently taking place worldwide I thought that it would be fun I would
play around with some figures over the weekend. The results may be of
interest and are presented below. I must stress that this was a very
tongue-in-cheek excercise, my figures are almost certainly flawed and the
compounded error based on incorrect assumptions must be huge.

It has often been said by supporters of Agenda 2000 and similar projects
that given the resources we systematists think we deserve then it should be
possible to inventory all the biota of this planet. Indeed, it has been
mentioned already that Ed Wilson suggested that now the human genome
project has been completed the next priority to should be given to this.
Below I present some figures that, to me at least, make pretty depressing
reading, but they could start some interesting discussion.

My group of interest is the Chalcidoidea, a large group of parasitic wasps
that currently number around 20,000 described species. It can be argued
that chalcidoids are amongst the most important of all insects groups
because of their interaction with other insects and their importance in
biocontrol. It seems very likely that the number actually existing in the
World is around 400,000. This latter figure seems to be fairly stable
whichever way it is calculated and those of that work on the systematics of
Chalcidoidea think that it is a pretty decent estimate. I have often got
into discussions regarding how we can deal with all these species and so at
the weekend I decided to see how long it would take, given certain
parameters, to do the work necessary to inventory (describe) all, or very
nearly all, of these species given unlimited resources.
The most optimistic result that I can come up with (given the assumptions
presented below) is that starting with 20 full-time chalcidoid systematists
we would end up with a total 1440 practising systematists taking at least
38 years to describe all species of Chalcidoidea existing in the World
(assuming a duplication of 2X, i.e. all species being described twice
because it would be almost impossible to coordinate such a huge project).

Total costing would be is as follows:

Researcher salaries $2,100m (an average salary of $45K per year per
researcher, $15K per year per student)
Total equipment costs $43m (an average of $30K start up costs for every
student and researcher) - a bit on the low side as I am not allowing for
expendibles, etc.
Parataxonomist salaries $2,100m (an average salary of $15,000 per year per PT)
Malaise traps  $900m
Specimen drawers (14.4m total) $650m
Buildings to house collections, research  $16,500m

Totalling  $22293m

The assumptions that I made are as follows.

On average, each practicising chalcidoid systematist can revise 50 species
per year.

Currently there are 20 specialist systematists in the World who have the
knowledge, expertise and time to each train 5 students every five years
(somewhat optimistic in my view).

On average systematists stop research at 60 years old (through death,
retirement, disenchantment, etc.)

Students publish a dissertation after 5 years revising 50 new species (that
seems about par for the course)

Out of every 5 students, two stay with systematics of Chalcidoidea, the
other 3 leave for various reasons.

The two students who stay with chalcidoid systematics take on 5 new
students after five years, these new students complete their dissertations
after a further five years and the cycle starts all over again.

Sufficient parataxonomists are trained to service a sufficient number of
Malaise traps, sort the material, mount it and label it.

For the first ten years of the project it would require 600,000 Malaise
traps to satisfactorily sample all habitats worldwide (Malaise trapping is
one of the best ways of rapidly collecting the group)

No species of Chalcidoidea become extimct during the running of the project.


John S. Noyes, Entomology Department, The Natural History Museum, Cromwell
Road, South Kensington, London, SW7 5BD, UK

Tel. +44 (0)207-942-5594  Fax: +44 (0)207-942-5229

INTERNET: jsn at

Interactive catalogue and biological database of World Chalcidoidea:
or search for Noyes at:

Encyrtidae of Costa Rica:

Course on taxonomy and biology of parasitic Hymenoptera:

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