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Animals of the world, complete!

By JW Dowey - 19 Sep 2013 6:45:0 GMT
Animals of the world, complete!

We need to take a long hard look at the species of animals present on earth. Our record to date is so poor that many of us know only one group, like butterflies, vertebrates or birds, and then not very well! Eyes image; Credit: © Shutterstock

High resolution images are popular. Science needs to take advantage of the technology that allows the dissemination and collection of such images of species of our fauna. It would seem simple. The setting-up of a centre for the study of total biodiversity is suggested in a paper published in Frontiers in Zoology. They refer to it as a virtual global natural history "metacollection." We love the idea and collectors universally will be keen to see such an extensive system.

Entomologists seem to be very keen on the idea, though many disciplines are to be involved at the "birth." Correct taxons for each ID and usefulness to the general public would be a great relief from the frustration we all experience on names. Even the research student struggles with the scattered information, specimens all over the earth and different languages involved. Thank goodness for Latin! State-of-the-art mass-imaging drawers, digitising and even image-stitching, whatever that is, on the internet, with free access certainly seem a valuable alternative to the current mess.

The impetus of such an enthusiastic approach to the mass of images raises the possibility of new systematics and general understanding. The many authors (at least 22 major contributors from almost every continent) believe many ideas will be encouraged, nurtured and made into new theory. New taxons of species and genera that are commonplace will be joined by new phyla or orders, in some cases, it would seem. The paper mentions, "gems of undescribed species hidden in museum accessions." We would suggest that even outside of live and dead collections, amateurs have often been the only observers of rare and extinct specimens.

Proposals to remedy the scatter-brained present situation include:

1. a cyberspace revision of sources and systematics; and established authority for taxonomy;

2. DNA barcode databases, occurrence databases;

3. communities online who are dedicated to identification and research;

4. data publishing frameworks; portals for species and other related resources and,

5. interactive ID keys.

Botanists are already involved in a global resource (the GPI) that will perform similar tasks. Discover Life already has 1,226,003 species pages that even allow amateurs to identify the animals. Project Noah and iNaturalist also precede this initiative.

Unable to replace a real collection of physical specimens, the photography nonetheless could be capable of 3D imaging (dorsal, lateral and ventral views are rare for most specimens at the moment) or even more detail than a live specimen could provide. It is likely that both key groups and neglected geographical and taxonomic areas could be given early priority to get the ideas off the ground. Inconsistencies, even of such simple data as measurements, could lead to new identifications and geographical variations, perhaps based on the priorities above.

Another quote from the authors is of, "light into the darkest corners." This is a rather obvious dig at the museums who have vast unopened drawers with unsorted specimens, perhaps donated by aged amateurs, long ago. Instead of being burgeoning, this could lead to great excitement as long as the work is spread worldwide, throughout all the groups that students would want to study. Highly trained people do exist over the entire earth's surface with universal higher education available in many countries. Even the employment situation could be eased.