[Taxacom] eol in nyt

Doug Yanega dyanega at ucr.edu
Mon Sep 10 18:21:59 CDT 2007

Bob Mesibov wrote:

>Richard Pyle wrote:
>"And the notion that the money that is to be spent on EoL
>being redirected to fieldwork or other areas that we perceive as higher
>priority is, as far as I understand it, pure fallacy."
>It sure is. EOL money will be spent indoors.

As others here have commented, you may be underestimating just how 
much of the undescribed biodiversity is actually already "indoors", 
and over-valuing the utility of field trips, especially regarding the 
matter of bulk samples of arthropods.

Which is more cost-efficient: sending a team of 3 entomologists to 
the Russian Far East for a month, or running 10 malaise traps with 
weekly samples for 5 years, at a *tenth* of the cost of that one 
expedition? What if those malaise samples have already been 
collected, in the 1990's, and all that remains now is to sort them 
and mount the specimens? True, the EoL may not directly support 
either of these endeavors, but the point remains that sending 
scientists into the field is not necessarily the best way to document 
the most biodiversity for one's funding investment.

The rate at which specimens are being collected is probably higher 
now than at any other point in human history (one malaise trap can 
collect upwards of a million specimens in a year, since 10-20K 
specimens in a week is certainly attainable in some habitats), but 
most of that collecting does no one any good unless there is someone 
to sort out the samples thoroughly so that experts have access to the 
material. If some enterprising soul could create and find support for 
a center that processes bulk samples of arthropods, that would do 
more for discovering new species (in terms of sheer numbers of new 
taxa) than any other project/initiative in existence, even if it was 
limited to samples already in the world's museums. You apparently 
believe field work is the limiting factor for documenting 
biodiversity, but it is NOT. We have collected enough material in the 
last decade, all on hand NOW, to keep armies of taxonomists busy for 
20 years.

>"[EOL] should make it possible to discover the remaining 90 percent of
>species in far less than 250 years, perhaps only one-tenth that time, a
>single human generation", and "[EOL] will accelerate the discovery of
>the unknown species".
>Whether or not you believe that EOL and other compilation projects will
>be of enormous or only limited benefit, none of them connect to the real
>world of disappearing biodiversity, despite the hype.

Like others here, I think most of the "connection" will come in the 
form of streamlining the task of the taxonomists - shortening that 
time frame between a specimen being collected and that specimen being 
recognized as something new. Just having digitized images of all the 
world's type specimens would be of IMMEASURABLE benefit to present 
and future taxonomists. Having online resources of this sort SHOULD 
also make gaps in our biogeographic coverage more evident, and thus 
contribute to more focused field effort.

Finally - and also as others have noted - simply having such 
resources can improve awareness of, and funding for, the grunt work 
behind documenting biodiversity. Even overambitious PR can have 
positive side-effects for "the real world of disappearing 
biodiversity", as long as it does not result in the *diversion* of 
resources that would otherwise have gone to activities of more direct 
benefit. Failing that, the only genuine problem one could imagine is 
if the PR promises too much, and the delivered goods fall too far 
short, and funding sources start looking at the word "biodiversity" 
as warning flag, a buzzword signifying "money doomed to be wasted." 
Part of being recognized as "big science" is delivering on one's 
promises, after all. In that sense, we had all better hope that the 
EoL works, and works well, and do what we can to help MAKE it work.


Doug Yanega        Dept. of Entomology         Entomology Research Museum
Univ. of California, Riverside, CA 92521-0314        skype: dyanega
phone: (951) 827-4315 (standard disclaimer: opinions are mine, not UCR's)
   "There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness
         is the true method" - Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chap. 82

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