[Taxacom] Pop article on taxonomy's decline

Stephen Thorpe stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz
Mon Jan 31 14:27:19 CST 2011


John,
It is always risky to generalise from one group to the whole lot, which seems to 
be what you are doing. It is worth clarifying that I didn't say that most 
undescribed taxa were marine, just that, in this country at least, there is now 
more marine taxonomic activity going on than terrestrial, but I guess it may 
also be risky to generalise from one's own country! If one were to estimate new 
taxa per annum from the no. per annum in N.Z., suitably multiplied, the result 
would be nowhere near 18000! Note that we are 1/12 of the way through 2011 
already (!), so there should already be over 1000 new taxa by your reckoning*! 
It is hard to know, but I doubt it ...
Stephen
*OK, so publication frequency is probably low in January, but still ...



________________________________
From: John Noyes <j.noyes at nhm.ac.uk>
To: Stephen Thorpe <stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz>; tillier at mnhn.fr; Anthony Gill 
<gill.anthony at gmail.com>
Cc: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Sent: Mon, 31 January, 2011 10:52:21 PM
Subject: RE: [Taxacom] Pop article on taxonomy's decline

Stephen,

Why expect "nonmarine new species to be less than or maybe 
equal to marine ones"? 

The figure of 18,000+ new species per year is almost certainly correct, perhaps 
even conservative. Most new taxa would be insects.

Currently in Chalcidoidea (a group of insects) have about 25,000 valid species. 
The average number of species described over the past five years is about 300 
per year. Insects currently include about 1.5m valid species. Thus, if new 
species in all groups of insects were to be described at the same rate we would 
have 18000 new species of insects described each year. You could argue that as 
Chalcidoidea are amongst the most poorly known groups and therefore there is a 
higher proportion of new species to be described (we estimate that less than 5% 
of all species have been described to date) then the figure is skewed. However, 
consider that there an incredibly small number of taxonomists working on this 
potentially huge group (perhaps fewer than 15 taxonomists in the world 
describing reasonable numbers of species each) and therefore the total number of 
new species they could describe per year between them is probably limited to 
about 300. In most groups of insects (e.g. Coleoptera or Lepidoptera) there are 
probably hundreds of taxonomists for each similar sized group. Taking this all 
into account, the figure of 18000 species of animals described each year seems 
pretty reasonable to me.

John

John Noyes
Scientific Associate
Department of Entomology
Natural History Museum
Cromwell Road
South Kensington
London SW7 5BD 
UK
jsn at nhm.ac.uk
Tel.: +44 (0) 207 942 5594
Fax.: +44 (0) 207 942 5229

Universal Chalcidoidea Database (everything you wanted to know about chalcidoids 
and more):
http://www.nhm.ac.uk/research-curation/projects/chalcidoids/
or
http://www.nhm.ac.uk/entomology/chalcidoids

Interactive catalogue and biological database of World Chalcidoidea on
CD:
Contact the publisher: DickyS._Yu at telus.net, or Dicky S. Yu, P.O.Box 48205, 
Bentall Centre, Vancouver B.C., V7X 1N8, CANADA; see also www.taxapad.com  


-----Original Message-----
From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu 
[mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of Stephen Thorpe
Sent: 28 January 2011 22:00
To: tillier at mnhn.fr; Anthony Gill
Cc: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Pop article on taxonomy's decline

>Regarding marine taxa, in 2002-2003 the average number of new species per year 
>is 1635

If true, this strongly supports my view that an 18000 overall new taxa for 2008 
is ludicrous! I would expect nonmarine new species to be less than or maybe 
equal to marine ones, which would result in c. 15000 new supraspecific names in 
2008!!

what is going on here?

Stephen



________________________________
From: Simon TILLIER <tillier at mnhn.fr>
To: Stephen Thorpe <stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz>; Anthony Gill 
<gill.anthony at gmail.com>
Cc: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Sent: Fri, 28 January, 2011 9:22:39 PM
Subject: RE: [Taxacom] Pop article on taxonomy's decline

Regarding marine taxa, in 2002-2003 the average number of new species per
year is 1635. Not a black box, this has been documented (with numbers and
affiliations of authors) by Philippe Bouchet in chapter 2 ("Magnitude of
Marine Biodiversity") of: Carlos M. Duarte (ed.), The Exploration of Marine
Biodiversity - Scientific and Technological Challenges. Fundación BBVA,
2006.

I think that he has done the exercise again recently (for the CoML final
meeting?) and that the rate does not change but marginally (I cannot check
with him presently, he is not in Paris).

Simon Tillier

> -----Message d'origine-----
> De : taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu [mailto:taxacom-
> bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] De la part de Stephen Thorpe
> Envoyé : vendredi 28 janvier 2011 05:25
> À : Anthony Gill
> Cc : taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
> Objet : Re: [Taxacom] Pop article on taxonomy's decline
> 
> interesting ... seems to be a lot of "black boxes" in the methodology
here, and
> very hard to independently verify or falsify whatever numbers SOS throws
at us
> ...
> 
> Stephen
> 
> 
> 
> 
> ________________________________
> From: Anthony Gill <gill.anthony at gmail.com>
> To: Stephen Thorpe <stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz>
> Cc: Tony.Rees at csiro.au; g.read at niwa.co.nz; taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
> Sent: Fri, 28 January, 2011 5:16:38 PM
> Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Pop article on taxonomy's decline
> 
> The numbers are similar to ones for previous years, so if there is
> some sort of inflation going on, then it is a constant. The data was
> usually provided as numbers of new species for each higher taxon. (The
> first year, I asked Zoological Record for a breakdon by animal
> families, but that proved an awful lot of work to make sense of!). I'm
> not sure of how the providers came up with the numbers, so I guess
> there is chance that there is some inflation. My gut feeling however
> is that the numbers are conservative, because - owing to the lag in
> capturing new species descriptions - numbers for a given year
> continued to rise after the SOS 1 April cutoff date. (At least this
> was the case for IPNI data i checked one year.)
> 
> If you are interested, it might be worth checking, say, the Zoological
> Records data against another source. One possible option might be
> Catalog of Fishes. (If so, bear in mind that Catalog of Fishes only
> tracks Recent fishes, so you would have to make sure you excluded
> Fossil taxa from the Zoo Records data.)
> 
> Tony
> 
> On Fri, Jan 28, 2011 at 3:06 PM, Stephen Thorpe
> <stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz> wrote:
> > thanks for that, Tony
> >
> > I'm not at all worried about "complete accuracy", but only about "ball
park
> > figures", and 18000+ for 2008 seems just way too high to me, but this is
> > based on little more than "gut feeling"
> > the "sources", as such, are not really the issue, but rather how the
data
> > was extracted and manipulated, and that I don't know
> >
> > do you think it possible that the number quoted for 2008 could somehow
 be,
> > say, twice as much as the actual figure??
> >
> > Stephen
> >
> > ________________________________
> > From: Anthony Gill <gill.anthony at gmail.com>
> > To: Stephen Thorpe <stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz>
> > Cc: Tony.Rees at csiro.au; g.read at niwa.co.nz; taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
> > Sent: Fri, 28 January, 2011 4:54:25 PM
> > Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Pop article on taxonomy's decline
> >
> > I was behind pulling together SOS numbers for the first couple of
> > years for the International Institute for Species Exploration at ASU.
> > The sources (partner organisations) are documented in the SOS reports,
> > and include Zoological Record, International Journal of Systematic and
> > Evolutionary Microbiology, and International Plant Names Index.
> > However, the counts are never going to be completely accurate as the
> > data providers could only provide a time slice of the data as it came
> > in; for the bulk of groups, new species descriptions are scattered
> > across a huge number of journals and books. This is one reason why the
> > report is released a year behind the "Top 10" competition (i.e., 2008
> > SOS numbers were released in 2010, but the Top 10 for that year was
> > for 2009 new species).
> >
> > I don't think too much attention should be paid to the total numbers
> > of species listed in the SOS reports, however.
> >
> > Tony
> >
> > On Fri, Jan 28, 2011 at 2:11 PM, Stephen Thorpe
> > <stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz> wrote:
> >> Tony, Geoff,
> >> I think that you are missing the crucial point, which is that we don't
> >> know
> >> *exactly how* these numbers were calculated (I haven't yet read through
> >> all the
> >> SOS documentation, however). The numbers seem well o.t.t. to me, so I
urge
> >> caution until we know *exactly how* they were calculated ...
> >> Stephen
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >> ________________________________
> >> From: "Tony.Rees at csiro.au" <Tony.Rees at csiro.au>
> >> To: stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz; neale at bishopmuseum.org;
tillier at mnhn.fr;
> >> mesibov at southcom.com.au; deepreef at bishopmuseum.org
> >> Cc: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
> >> Sent: Fri, 28 January, 2011 4:00:50 PM
> >> Subject: RE: [Taxacom] Pop article on taxonomy's decline
> >>
> >>
> >> Hi Stephen, all,
> >>
> >> The numbers quoted earlier do not come from GNI, but from here:
> >>
> >> http://www.species.asu.edu/SOS
> >>
> >> where they are compiled from a range of reputable sources, all cited I
> >> think.
> >>
> >> Cheers - Tony
> >>
> >>
> >>> -----Original Message-----
> >>> From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu [mailto:taxacom-
> >>> bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of Stephen Thorpe
> >>> Sent: Friday, 28 January 2011 1:58 PM
> >>> To: Neal Evenhuis; tillier at mnhn.fr; Bob Mesibov; Richard Pyle
> >>> Cc: taxacom
> >>> Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Pop article on taxonomy's decline
> >>>
> >>> >Therefore, GNI is not really the place to see how many new species
were
> >>> proposed
> >>> >in a given year
> >>>
> >>> yes, but someone might try to use it for that, so we need to beware
> >>>
> >>> I don't think that there is a place to see how many new species were
> >>> proposed in
> >>> a given year! Isn't that one of the things biodiversity informatics is
> >>> (slowly)
> >>> working towards??
> >>>
> >>> so, I think we should be *highly cautious* about any claimed numbers
...
> >>> I
> >>> still
> >>> think 18000 is an order of magnitude too high for 2008 ... but how can
I
> >>> check?
> >>>
> >>>
> >>> Stephen
> >>>
> >>>
> >>>
> >>>
> >>> ________________________________
> >>> From: Neal Evenhuis <neale at bishopmuseum.org>
> >>> To: Stephen Thorpe <stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz>; "tillier at mnhn.fr"
> >>> <tillier at mnhn.fr>; Bob Mesibov <mesibov at southcom.com.au>; Richard Pyle
> >>> <deepreef at bishopmuseum.org>
> >>> Cc: taxacom <taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu>
> >>> Sent: Fri, 28 January, 2011 3:52:38 PM
> >>> Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Pop article on taxonomy's decline
> >>>
> >>> GNI actually pulls up ALL records of a name -- misspellings,
subsequent
> >>> usage,
> >>> etc.!
> >>>
> >>> Searching back to 2001 you get totals varying from 24079 (for 2008) to
> >>> 114252
> >>> (for 2004!) -- click on some of the names and you will see it whenever
a
> >>> name
> >>> has been listed in a publication. Therefore, GNI is not really the
place
> >>> to see
> >>> how many new species were proposed in a given year.
> >>>
> >>> -Neal
> >>>
> >>> On 1/27/11 4:30 PM, "Stephen Thorpe"
> >>> <stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz<mailto:stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz>>
> scribbled
> >>> the
> >>> following tidbit:
> >>>
> >>> maybe that figure of 18225 is OK ... hard to say, but one needs to be
> >>> careful
> >>> a search for 2008 on Global Names Index pulls up 24079 records
(including
> >>> new
> >>> genera etc., as well as new species)
> >>> http://gni.globalnames.org/name_strings?search_term=2008
> >>> *but* just looking at the first page of 803 reveals 7 repeats based on
> >>> minor
> >>> citation variants (comma absent or present, authors in full or et al.,
> >>> etc.)
> >>> so, the number could be well astray quite easily ...
> >>>
> >>> ________________________________
> >>> From: Neal Evenhuis
> >>> <neale at bishopmuseum.org<mailto:neale at bishopmuseum.org>>
> >>> To: "tillier at mnhn.fr<mailto:tillier at mnhn.fr>"
> >>> <tillier at mnhn.fr<mailto:tillier at mnhn.fr>>; Bob Mesibov
> >>> <mesibov at southcom.com.au<mailto:mesibov at southcom.com.au>>; Richard
> Pyle
> >>> <deepreef at bishopmuseum.org<mailto:deepreef at bishopmuseum.org>>
> >>> Cc: taxacom
> >>> <taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu<mailto:taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu>>
> >>> Sent: Fri, 28 January, 2011 1:29:05 PM
> >>> Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Pop article on taxonomy's decline
> >>>
> >>> Figures can always be misleading.
> >>>
> >>> Without doing too much calculation and re-examination of all the
> >>> parameters
> >>> given below, let's just look at one:
> >>>
> >>> 18225 species described;
> >>> 50 species per year per taxonomist;
> >>> = 346 taxonomists doing all the work!
> >>> I doubt it. Especially since Philippe says 600 are doing Mollusca work
> >>> alone...
> >>>
> >>> Some of the figures given below are confounded by many real-life
> >>> situations not
> >>> taken into account:
> >>> 1. many co-authors on papers describing species
> >>> 2. students and retired professionals getting little or no pay
> >>>
> >>> A recalculation given many more complexities and realistic parameters
of
> >>> species
> >>> being described should show that very little funding goes to taxonomy
as
> >>> compared to systematics.
> >>>
> >>> -Neal
> >>>
> >>>
> >>> On 1/26/11 11:53 PM, "Simon TILLIER"
> >>>
> >>>
<tillier at mnhn.fr<mailto:tillier at mnhn.fr><mailto:tillier at mnhn.fr<mailto:til
> >>> lier at mnhn.fr>>>
> >>>  scribbled the following tidbit:
> >>>
> >>> Some elements in support to Rich's (unpopular) position:
> >>>
> >>> 1.  18225 new species have been described in 2008 (source = State of
> >>> Observed Species 2010). This rate of description has existed for more
> >>> than
> >>> two decades now (source = Philippe Bouchet), and is far higher than
ever
> >>> before since Linnaeus times;
> >>>
> >>> 2. New species are being described by more authors than ever, which is
> >>> obviously in contradiction with the idea of extinction of taxonomists:
> >>> for
> >>> new Mollusc species, from ca 150 authors since 1930 to 1960, to 400+
in
> >>> 2000
> >>> and 600+ in 2008 (source = Philippe Bouchet)
> >>>
> >>> 3. The GBIF budget was 2.6 million euros in 2009. A rough calculation
of
> >>> the
> >>> cost of a new species description may be as follows:
> >>> - a taxonomist full salary cost may be approximately 60000 euros /
year;
> >>> - he/she may describe at least 50 new species per year (much more in
some
> >>> taxa), working full time at species description;
> >>> - so a new species description costs ca 1200 euros;
> >>> - the collection, infrastructure and publication costs may double this
> >>> amount, lets accept 2500 euros / species description;
> >>> - then ca 45,5 million euros  are spent yearly to describe 18225
species,
> >>> ie
> >>> 20 times the GBIF budget and probably ca 10 times the cost of all
> >>> database
> >>> initiatives. The ratio would still be very much higher if we took into
> >>> consideration the capital immobilized in both cases (real estate,
etc).
> >>> Spending the GBIF budget on species description would allow an
increase
> >>> in
> >>> description rate of  5-6%, which may well be less than the benefit
> >>> resulting
> >>> from direct access to a lot of information which is physically
fragmented
> >>> in
> >>> places too numerous to allow easy access by more  than very few
> >>> privileged
> >>> professionals.
> >>>
> >>> So, and unless these rational figures are rationally demonstrated to
be
> >>> false, taxonomists are not endangered and the cost of databases is
> >>> trivial,
> >>> even if the quality and quantity of the information accessible
obviously
> >>> need improvement.
> >>>
> >>> I see actually two problems: the first is understanding why we
perceive
> >>> taxonomists as endangered when objective observations indicate that
this
> >>> is
> >>> not the case, at least in a first approach; and the second problem is
how
> >>> we
> >>> can address the absence of any knowledge on something like 50 - 100%
of
> >>> all
> >>> living species.
> >>>
> >>> Simon Tillier
> >>>
> >>> -----Message d'origine-----
> >>> De :
> >>> taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu<mailto:taxacom-
> >>> bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu><mailto:taxacom-
> >>> bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu<mailto:taxacom-
> bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu>>
> >>>  [mailto:taxacom-
> >>>
> >>>
> bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu<mailto:bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu><mailto:bo
> unc
> >>> es at mailman.nhm.ku.edu<mailto:bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu>>]
> >>>  De la part de Bob Mesibov
> >>> Envoyé : jeudi 27 janvier 2011 00:34
> >>> À : Richard Pyle
> >>> Cc : TAXACOM
> >>> Objet : Re: [Taxacom] Pop article on taxonomy's decline
> >>> Hi, Rich.
> >>> I think your lack of food may have affected your lines of argument :-)
> >>> Pyle: "First of all, it's wrong."
> >>> Whether existing taxonomists think the databasing efforts are good or
not
> >>> isn't
> >>> relevant. The author of the Wired article is Craig McLain, assistant
> >>> director of
> >>> science for the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center and like you, a
> >>> keen marine
> >>> expeditioner. McLain doesn't knock databasing. He says: 'Thankfully
(my
> >>> own
> >>> research has relied upon them), thousands of hours and millions of
> >>> dollars
> >>> have
> >>> been spent on these initiatives. However, many of these programs did
not
> >>> financially support taxonomists generating the data these databases
> >>> required.'
> >>> Pyle: "Second of all, the amount of money spent on all database
efforts
> >>> combined
> >>> is *trivial* compared to what is needed to correct the problem."
> >>> Ah, the old 'drop in the bucket' argument from Tom Wolfe's 'Mau Mauing
> >>> the
> >>> Flak
> >>> Catchers'. Correcting the problem might take millions, who knows? It's
a
> >>> fluid
> >>> estimate. Take some real figures: in 2010-11, of the 4 of the 9
taxonomy
> >>> grants
> >>> from the Australian Biological Resources Study (the Federal taxonomy
> >>> honeypot) to
> >>> professional taxonomists were for AUD$10000 *over 3 years*. That
really
> >>> is
> >>> trivial.
> >>> How much does one EOL Biodiversity Synthesis Meeting cost?
> >>> Pyle: "Third, in most cases that money has not come from a source that
> >>> would have
> >>> been available to taxonomists anyway."
> >>> Which is McLain's point, and lots of other people's. That source damn
> >>> well
> >>> *should*
> >>> have been funding the taxonomists. And here again one of my favourite
> >>> quotes,
> >>> from former EOL head James Edwards: "We have not given enough thought
to
> >>> the
> >>> people who provide the information on which the Encyclopedia of Life
is
> >>> built," Dr.
> >>> Edwards acknowledged. "We are looking into ways to keep that community
> >>> going."
> >>> (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/26/science/26ency.html?_r=3)
> >>> Pyle: "Fourth, the entire argument is a Red Herring, because the real
> >>> problem with
> >>> misdirected funds is more dollars spent doing lab-based taxonomy, and
> >>> less
> >>> dollars
> >>> spent doing field-based taxonomy."
> >>> You probably need to clarify that a bit more. I think it's still true
> >>> that
> >>> most new
> >>> species are 'discovered' in museums and herbaria.
> >>> --
> >>> Dr Robert Mesibov
> >>> Honorary Research Associate
> >>> Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, and
> >>> School of Zoology, University of Tasmania
> >>> Home contact: PO Box 101, Penguin, Tasmania, Australia 7316
> >>> Ph: (03) 64371195; 61 3 64371195
> >>> Webpage: http://www.qvmag.tas.gov.au/?articleID=570
> >>> _______________________________________________
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> >>>
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> Taxac
> >>> om at mailman.nhm.ku.edu<mailto:Taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu>>
> >>>
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> >>>
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> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >> _______________________________________________
> >>
> >> Taxacom Mailing List
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> >>
> >
> >
> >
> > --
> > Dr Anthony C. Gill
> > Natural History Curator
> > A12 Macleay Museum
> > University of Sydney
> > NSW 2006
> > Australia.
> >
> > E-mail:  anthony.c.gill at sydney.edu.au
> >
> >
> 
> 
> 
> --
> Dr Anthony C. Gill
> Natural History Curator
> A12 Macleay Museum
> University of Sydney
> NSW 2006
> Australia.
> 
> E-mail:  anthony.c.gill at sydney.edu.au
> 
> 
> 
> 
> _______________________________________________
> 
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