New species in the Old World: Europe as a frontier in biodiversity exploration, a test bed for 21st century taxonomy
PLoS ONE , Volume 7 - Issue 5
The number of described species on the planet is about 1.9 million, with ca. 17,000 new species described annually, mostly from the tropics. However, taxonomy is usually described as a science in crisis, lacking manpower and funding, a politically acknowledged problem known as the Taxonomic Impediment. Using data from the Fauna Europaea database and the Zoological Record, we show that contrary to general belief, developed and heavily-studied parts of the world are important reservoirs of unknown species. In Europe, new species of multicellular terrestrial and freshwater animals are being discovered and named at an unprecedented rate: since the 1950s, more than 770 new species are on average described each year from Europe, which add to the 125,000 terrestrial and freshwater multicellular species already known in this region. There is no sign of having reached a plateau that would allow for the assessment of the magnitude of European biodiversity. More remarkably, over 60% of these new species are described by non-professional taxonomists. Amateurs are recognized as an essential part of the workforce in ecology and astronomy, but the magnitude of non-professional taxonomist contributions to alpha-taxonomy has not been fully realized until now. Our results stress the importance of developing a system that better supports and guides this formidable workforce, as we seek to overcome the Taxonomic Impediment and speed up the process of describing the planetary biodiversity before it is too late. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0036881
Fontaine, B., van Achterberg, C., Alonso-Zarazaga, M. A., Araujo, R., Asche, M., Aspöck, H., … Bouchet, P. (2012). New species in the Old World: Europe as a frontier in biodiversity exploration, a test bed for 21st century taxonomy. PLoS ONE, 7(5).