[Taxacom] previous post focused on collection, this one on species description

Richard Pyle deepreef at bishopmuseum.org
Sun Jun 9 14:51:55 CDT 2013

Excellent post, Jose! (and Alan as well!) 

Overall, the signal-to-noise ratio on Taxacom this morning has been far better than any other in recent memory.

One think Jose wrote that prompted me to comment:

> For the past couple of years I have been involved in efforts trying to speed-
> up the process of describing those species (efforts that other colleagues
> have called as "turbotaxonomy", I do not have time now to expand into this
> subject, but will do it in a future post later this summer). 

Several years ago on this list I outlined a concept called "TurboTaxonomy".  In the U.S., there is a popular software application called "TurboTax", which is a very intuitive workflow for U.S. citizens to complete their annual tax filings.  The U.S. Tax Code, as you might imagine, is very complex (way too complex for most average citizens to comprehend), so "TurboTax" makes it very easy to navigate through the complex Code to check the right boxes and answer the right questions.  My concept was to do exactly the same thing, except in the context of the nomenclatural Codes.  The idea would be to create a software package that stepped through the process of describing a new species, ensuring that each requirement of the relevant Code is fulfilled, and providing real-world examples, and plain-spoken explanations for what the rules are, and what the best practices are, and so on (available in multiple languages, of course). The obvious name for this software was "TurboTaxonomy".  Fellow ICZN Commissioner Daphne Fautin and I fleshed out the idea somewhat, and even approached the company Intuit (which makes "TurboTax") to see if they would be willing to help us out.  The response was that, not only were they not interested in helping develop the software we envision, but they suggested there might be trademark infringement if we used the name "TurboTaxonomy".

As Chris Thompson likes to say, "Oh, well..."

However, as I explore Pensoft's PWT (Google it), I see the beginnings of what I already had envisioned for my concept of "TurboTaxonomy".  As we start to build tighter links between ZooBank and the PWT, I think we can actually begin to build it (whether or not we are legally able to call it "TurboTaxonomy" is another issue).  But I think what we need should go well beyond just a tool to write a manuscript such that new names are compliant with the respective Code.  It should be an entire workflow, from start to finish, that allows the process of taxonomy to be accelerated along the lines of what Jose described.

Oh, and one last thing:  in my world (coral-reef fishes), somewhere between 2/3 and 4/5 of the global coral-reef habitat remains almost completely unexplored.  Given that we are finding new reef-fish species at a rate of 7-27 new species per hour of exploration time (with no sign of an asymptote, and with higher rates of geographic endemism than for the 1/3 - 1/5 of reef habitat that has been explored) -- for a group that was supposedly approaching asymptote, I'm in the camp that believes that we're not even close to finding all that's out there.  Granted, vertebrates (even fishes) represent an inconsequential slice of the biodiversity pie; but a coral reef is the tropical rain forest of the sea.  For every new fish we find, there may be an order of magnitude more macro-invertebrates awaiting discovery.  And for every sessile macro-invertebrate, there may be orders of magnitude more micro-organisms awaiting discovery.  Add in the incredible wealth of planktonic life around the reefs and....well....you get the picture.


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