[Taxacom] eol in nyt

Bob Mesibov mesibov at southcom.com.au
Fri Sep 7 04:38:54 CDT 2007

Paul Kirk and Richard Pyle both see EOL as a time-saver. If taxonomists
spend less time doing the office-based fiddly bits of taxonomy, then
they'll have more time to go out and discover new biodiversity.

It's a nice qualitative argument but I'd like to see the numbers. Most
taxonomists I know work for organisations whose demands consume (notice
I didn't say "waste") a large proportion of those taxonomists' working
hours. Taxonomists in these places struggle to find time to do the
fiddly bits, let alone do fieldwork. How many hours will get saved by
EOL, and how many of those hours will be "organisationally" available
for fieldwork?

Then there's the small matter of funding. An expert on Improbabilidae
says to his museum director, "EOL is saving me a month a year on
taxonomic fiddly bits. How about you sending me to Kalimantan for a
month? It's got the highest diversity of Improbabilidae on the planet,
and ongoing forest destruction is wiping them out fast." And the
director replies, "How much more is that month going to cost us if
you're in Kalimantan rather than at your desk? Where are we supposed to
get the money? EOL?"

Richard also makes the argument, which isn't hard to back up with
examples, that most new species are discovered in museums. That is *not*
the same as "most new species are in museums". If Wilson and others are
correct, most new species haven't been collected yet, and I don't see
how EOL is going to help find them.

There's only one way to discover undiscovered life, and that's to go out
and look for it. If Wilson wants to find and document the remaining 90%
in a generation, he's going to have to multiply by several times the
field effort of the past 250 years in 25 years. Whether that's a job for
taxonomists at the "fiddly bits" end of the business, or an army of
trained collectors, isn't the point. The point is that EOL won't
massively increase our field effort.
Dr Robert Mesibov
Honorary Research Associate, Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery
and School of Zoology, University of Tasmania
Contact: PO Box 101, Penguin, Tasmania, Australia 7316
(03) 64371195; 61 3 64371195

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