There's a great article on the Science website that brings up the issue of taxonomy. Taxonomy is the science dealing with the description, identification, naming and classification of organisms. Due to declining funding and a lack of professional practitioners, the article proposes that amateur taxonomists could make significant contributions to understanding the Earth's biodiversity.
The article highlight's the Science Museum's own "professional-amateur" entomologist Ron Huber. Ron's been volunteering his time at the museum since September 1964 and has written a number of scientific publications based on his research on the museum's collection.
Courtesy Rebecca Newberry, SMM
With 1.4 million animal species scientifically described and with an untold number still to be discovered and described the role of taxonomy is more critical than ever. But there definitely is debate as to whether amateurs are the solution to the problems facing taxonomy. What do you think?
Looooooong time passing....
Seems like some of them were never here to begin with. Over the years, scientists have named about 700 different species of dinosaurs. But a recent study indicates that perhaps as many as a third of these were phantoms—specimens that were given distinct names despite actually belonging to another, well-known species.
For example, Torosaurus is now thought to be just a fully mature version of Triceratops. At the other end of the age scale, Nanotyrannus is considered by some to be just a juvenile form of the famous Tyrannosaurus rex.
Why the changes? Well, identifying species is hard, even under the best of circumstances. With fossils, it’s especially tricky. You often only have one specimen to study, not dozens or hundreds as with living creatures. You can only see the fossil’s bones, not the full creature. And, most important, you only have the dead body—you can’t watch the living creature to see how it changes as it grows. (Dinosaur bones, it seems, are extremely malleable and prone to change shape as the creature matures.)
But don’t be too hard on the poor paleontologists. Other scientists have this same problem. Last year, it was reported that over 30% of all living marine creatures had been misidentified, and for the same reasons. An individual (or small group) was slightly larger than normal, or slightly smaller, or a slightly different color, or came from a different location—enough to lead the scientist to classify it as a new species, when in fact it was already a member of an established species. If taxonomists can make that many mistakes with living creatures, we shouldn’t be surprised that the dinosaur family tree will need a little pruning.
Researchers at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia recently discovered a new species of catfish. They named the species Rhinodoras gallagheri in honor of Frank Gallagher, who had worked in the museum’s mailroom for 37 years.
Courtesy Alexander Roslin; Royal Science Academy of SwedenThe Writer's Almanac reminds us that Carl Linnaeus was born 301 years ago today. Carl Linnaeus established the practice of using a unique set of two Latin terms to name a species, which became the common scientific naming system that we still use today.
The Almanac writes:
He was a botanist. He taught at universities. At a time when Sweden was one of the poorest countries in Europe, Linnaeus set out to import exotic plants and animals, hoping they could be raised for profit in Sweden. He hoped to raise tea and coffee, ginger, coconuts, silkworms.
His botanical experiments failed. The tea plants died. The coffee didn't make it in Sweden, and neither did ginger or coconuts or cotton. Rhubarb did though, and Linnaeus, late in his life, said the introduction of rhubarb to Sweden was his proudest achievement. But today we remember him for his contribution to taxonomy.
Oddly enough, I ate a rhubarb tart in celebration of a friend's birthday last night. I like to think it was in honor of good ol' Linné as well.
On Saturday, January 27, Sweden kicked off a year-long celebration to honor the 300th aniversary of the birth of scientist Carl Linneaus. Linneaus is best known for inventing the system of classifying living things into kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus and species -- an important step toward Darwin's later discovery of evolution. Any time you hear someone refer to Homo sapiens or Tyrannosaurus rex, you've got Carl to thank.